Saturday, September 15, 2007

New Poem: Waiting


What are we waiting for?
Night is a promise.
Sleep is never what we expect.
I don't know.

But wait we will. For morning?
The doves sing their soft coo
and the sun betrays the promise of night.

Who am I?
I don't know. I don't know.

Over and over again
I brew dark roasted coffee,
read the paper,
walk out into the bright morning
and still I don't know.

No knowing is a relief.

What am I waiting for?
The trees should be turning brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red.
But there are no trees in the desert.
So what am I waiting for?

The woman downstairs fries eggs and bacon every morning.
She is not waiting.

The rabbits outside munch on cholla bulbs.
They are not waiting.

So what am I waiting for?
As if waiting will reveal . . . what?
Something? Anything?

The secret?

But who am I?
Is that the secret?

Sleep promises an escape from the torture of thought.
But then I dream of a woman who betrayed me and I am still thinking
in the midst of a dream, wanting morning to swoop in
and save me from my life.

So then the sun slaps me upside the head
and my life is staring back at me.

Why? I don't know.

Not knowing is a relief.

When someone asks me for the time
or says hello
I think for a brief moment that I might exist,
otherwise I am waiting for some kind of confirmation
that never comes.

This mind, a fabrication of thoughts and emotions,
I doubt it is real.

When I had a cat I knew I was real
because he demanded of me my attention.

A violent order is disorder; and
A great disorder is an order. These
Two things are one.
~ Wallace Stevens

Simply one more truth. But what am I waiting for?

The pensive man, that is me,
waiting for something. Waiting
for Godot to appear and show me the way?

The night betrays they who trust in darkness.
So little can be said in favor of light.

When morning arrives I will regret everything,
but as darkness surrounds me
I will swear an oath to night.

I will cease waiting and embrace that which I do know.
Everything. Who am I?
I do not know.

Not knowing is a relief.

Gratitude 9/15/07

Some things I am grateful for today:

1) A new client at the gym. Business has been picking up. There is also a potential new in-home client. I am so grateful for work coming my way when I need it.

2) Zaadz has a new feature, a shout-out box on our home pages. I love this. Some of my friends have been sharing their appreciation for what I do -- and that feels good.

3) The Oregon Ducks won again today. Washington lost to #10 Ohio State, but I think they are still a good team.

What are you grateful for today?

The Shock Doctrine by Alfonso Cuarón and Naomi Klein

This is disturbing, but it makes perfect sense when you look back over the last six years.

The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein.

The Integral Mind

I made one of my regular visits to my favorite used book store today. Among the handful of treasures I picked up was a book by Merlin Donald, a cognitive neuroscientist and author of A Mind So Rare. Donald takes a view of mind that I haven't really seen before, but which is distinctly integral in many ways.

According to Donald, what makes the human mind unique in all of nature (and I'm not sure I agree that this is an exclusively human trait) is that it is not simply a material structure -- as so many neuroscientists like to argue these days -- but is also composed of our individual subjective experiences AND our cultural experiences. In his view, our minds would not exist as we currently understand them without the influence of culture.

This is from the dust-jacket of the book:

Donal proposes that the human mind is a hybrid product of interweaving a supercomplex form of matter (the brain) with an invisible symbolic web (culture) to form a "distributed" cognitive network.

This is from one of the many articles by Donald that are available online:

Our brains and minds can be deeply affected by the overwhelming influence of symbolic cultures during development. I mean this, not in the superficial sense intended, for instance, by the Whorfian hypothesis about the influence of language on the way we think, but on a much deeper, architectural, level. Some cultural changes can actually remodel the operational structure of the cognitive system. The clearest example of this is the extended and widespread effect of literacy on cognition. In this case, we know that the brain's architecture has not been affected, at least not in its basic anatomy or wiring diagram. But its functional architecture has changed, under the influence of culture.

In this modified view, brain-culture interactions can cut both ways. Undoubtedly, certain brain modifications are a precondition of the emergence of complex culture and must precede its evolution. This order of precedence is confirmed by the archaeological record, which shows that cultural change often followed anatomical change, sometimes by many generations. This was true of advances in both toolmaking and the domestication of fire, which only emerged hundreds of thousands of years after the increased brain size of archaic Homo became a reality. But, at the same time, certain uses to which the human brain is put, such as literacy and distributed symbolic cognition, cannot occur without an appropriate level of cultural evolution and in this case, the brain is drawn along by cultural change. This is achieved by influencing development.

I think this is an important distinction in how we think of the mind. Some of this is implied, though seldom expressed explicitly, in developmental psychology and by people such as Steven Pinker and Howard Bloom.

The idea of the mind as a "distributed cognitive network" is in many ways similar to what Bloom was arguing in Global Brain:

While cyber-thinkers claim the Internet is bringing us toward some sort of worldwide mind, Bloom believes we've had one all along. Drawing on information theory, debates within evolutionary' biology, and research psychology (among other disciplines), Bloom understands the development of life on Earth as a series of achievements in collective information processing. He stands up for 'group selection' (a minority view among evolutionists) and traces cooperation among organisms-and competition between groups-throughout the history of evolution. 'Creative webs' of early microorganisms teamed up to go after food sources: modern colonies of E. coli bacteria seem to program themselves for useful, nonrandom mutations. Octopi 'teach' one another to avoid aversive stimuli. Ancient Sparta killed its weakest infants; Athens educated them. Each of these is a social learning system. And each such system relies on several functions. 'Conformity enforcers' keep most group members doing the same things; 'diversity generators' seek out new things; 'resource shifters' help the system alter itself to favor new things that work. In Bloom's model, bowling leagues, bacteria, bees, Belgium and brains all behave in similar ways.

Bloom, like Donald, believes that the human mind has been shaped by a series of cultural processes, and that without this cultural influence we wouldn't have the minds we currently possess and tend to think of as highly individual. It would be interesting to hear these two men discuss their unique understanding of human evolution.

From a Buddhist perspective, the mind simply does not exist in any absolute sense. However, in the relative world, we are a combination of our biology (the brain), our interior experience (the psyche), and our collaborative experience (culture). The mind is an integral experience.

I think both Bloom and Donald tend to conflate the cultural and the social into one unit (rather than seeing the cultural as an interior experience and the social as an exterior experience), but this objection is minor in the overall value of what they are saying.

I suspect that I will have more to say about Donald's book as I get further into it.

Schoolhouse Rock - Verb (That's What's Happenin')

In honor of Saturday mornings in the early seventies, a little Schoolhouse Rock.


Dharma Quote of the Week

Dharma Quote of the Week from Snow Lion Publications: inherently existent "I" appears to us, but instead of assenting to that appearance and holding it to be true, we analyze how the "I" actually exists.

At those times in our life when there's a very solid feeling of "I," it's helpful to examine how that "I" appears. I remember the first time I stayed out all night in college and my mother didn't know. I came home the next day with this feeling that "I" really existed: "I did this and my mother doesn't know!" The feeling of "I" was just enormous, incredibly solid, because I did something I wasn't supposed to do.

Examine how that "I" appears, that big "I," especially when you have a strong emotion. Get familiar with that sense of "I." When somebody criticizes us or accuses us of doing something that we didn't do, this feeling comes up very quickly. Usually, we're focused not on the feeling of "I," but on attacking the other person or escaping from him. But if we can step back, it's an incredible opportunity to study the feeling of "I." The person who irritates us the most can be our best Dharma asset, because he gives us an opportunity to look at this sense of "I."

~ From Cultivating a Compassionate Heart: The Yoga Method of Chenrezig, by Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron, foreword by H.H. the Dalai Lama, published by Snow Lion Publications

Free Online Physics Textbook

Yeah, I'm a bit of a geek, so it's not surprising that I am enjoying this online physics text from Motion Mountain.

This site provides a free physics textbook that tells the story of how it became possible, after 2500 years of exploration, to answer such questions. The book is written for the curious: it is entertaining, surprising and challenging on every page. With little mathematics, starting from observations of everyday life, the text explores the most fascinating parts of mechanics, thermodynamics, special and general relativity, electrodynamics, quantum theory and modern attempts at unification. The essence of these fields is summarized in the most simple terms. For example, the text presents modern physics as consequence of the notions of minimum entropy, maximum speed, maximum force, minimum change of charge and minimum action.

To enjoy curiosity even more, for each field of physics, the text presents the latest research results, the best animations, the best images, the most interesting physical puzzles and the most telling physical curiosities. It includes more than 500 animations and illustrations, 90 tables and 1600 challenges and puzzles.

Written in English, over 1300 pages are provided for students, teachers, and for anybody who is curious about the precise description of nature. To satisfy even the most extreme curiosity, the text ends by exploring the limits of time and space, and the wonders that can be discovered there.

Download the text (20th edition, January 2007).

Cool, huh? Here are some sample entries from the mainpage:

How does a rainbow form?
Is levitation possible?
Do time machines exist?
What does 'quantum' mean?
What is the maximum force value found in nature?
Is 'empty space' really empty?
Is the universe a set?
Which problems in physics are still unsolved?

David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises [Updated]

I've been a David Cronenberg fan since his early horror-schlock days. The thing is, more than any other director I can think of, he has continued to evolve and broaden his palette with new movie.

So I am excited to see his newest film, Eastern Promises.

Here is a little of what Roger Ebert had to say about the film:

Cronenberg has said he's not interested in crime stories as themselves. "I was watching 'Miami Vice' the other night," he told Adam Nayman of Toronto's Eye Weekly, "and I realized I'm not interested in the mechanics of the mob, but criminality and people who live in a state of perpetual transgression -- that is interesting to me."

And to me as well. What the director and writer do here is not unfold a plot, but flay the skin from a hidden world. Their story puts their characters to a test: They can be true to their job descriptions within a hermetically sealed world where everyone shares the same values and expectations, and where outsiders are by definition the prey. But what happens when their cocoon is broached? Do they still possess fugitive feelings instilled by a long-forgotten babushka? And what if they do?

Other reviews include the Boston Globe and Washington Post.

UPDATE: Eastern Promises won the Toronto International Film Festival's top prize on Saturday.

Friday, September 14, 2007


I just watched the film Thirteen.

At the edge of adolescence, Tracy is a smart straight-A student--if not a little naive (it seems...she smokes and she cuts to alleviate the emotional pain she suffers from having a broken home and hating her mom's boyfriend, Brady.) When she befriends Evie, the most popular and beautiful girl in school, Evie leads Tracy down a path of sex, drugs and petty crime (like stealing money from purses and from stores). As Tracy transforms herself and her identity, her world becomes a boiling, emotional cauldron fueled by new tensions between her and her mother--as well as, teachers and old friends.

The trailer:

This was a hard film to watch. It reminded me way too much of my own life at that age, except that I did the male version of trying to numb the pain by self-destructing. But I, too, was an A student until the age of 13, then my father died, my mother came apart at the seams, and I was left to raise myself (and my sister, while also trying to take care of my mother), and to try to deal with the upheaval of my life. Much like Tracy in the film, I didn't do a very good job of it.

I was twenty when I wrote this poem -- high on LSD, pot, and vodka. It sums up the feeling of my teen years, the desolation, the despair, but also the realization -- however clouded -- that I was doing this to myself. "Only I have the key."

remains of a broken bottle beside the river

i can only remember days when rain
would come from darkness,
and it's the darkness,
the shadow of the crow, the need
to touch something deeper
than her body lying beside me
so far from reach, my own body
hideous in a mirror void
of reflection, my back against
smooth tile and sweat is slippery,
it's that feeling, vision held
at the fragile tip of a candle
wandering through the emptiness
of a cave too familiar, walls
of my skull, and it's the darkness,
blackness at the bottom of a bottle
i swore against, blackness
at the bottom of a mountain lake
when the moon is round
and the lightning has stopped,
but nothing really stops,
there is always the going,
lavender violence and burning yellows
of sunset, then night, cool and clean
as starlight, sounds of bullfrogs
and distant coyote, darkness into which i dive
as into a liquid cave warm and mythic,
swimming to center, body falling away
into moist darkness, behind my eyes
the big black sun pushing its way out,
rupturing the bond, and expulsion
into a dawn i cannot force
beneath the surface, always
this going, my heart still pounds
against the confine of ribs, restriction,
and all the stars gathered into one source
can never blind the sun, even in night
the sun burns in my skull, flames haunting me
as only i can really haunt me,
searching the same dusty corners
for anything i've not found before,
kicking through autumn leaves
in the park, rain falling as from a dream,
the necessity of liquid, purifying flesh
and soul, poems i cry out
over and over. . .
where does it go from here, the despair,
the desperation for something more,
watching the river, moving water
is everything, the sound pulling me
into darkness, and it's the darkness,
looking out from the inside, emptiness
of the bottle, looking out
from inside the center of a flame,
where is the stillness of sleep,
the inside of a room with no movement,
no sound but the constant pound of seconds
pushing against restraints,
chains threaten to snap easily
but hold, always tight around
my wrists, and only i have the key,
so the problem is clear,
where to move, how to crack
the mud solidifying on my eyes,
where to begin to end the poem,
it wanders, a child fighting out
from a cold storm, rain and wind,
and the smile worn in a graveyard,
grays of stone and winter and clouds
swirling over my head in constant motion
and the fear of falling, deeper and deeper
into what i already know
awaits me, sunlight burning holes
through photographs, and as i remember
all of this i pace, sweaty,
trying to imagine rain,
not thunder and lightning,
just rain, soft, quiet, rustle
of leaves, smells clean and silent,
but not silent, birds, a crow,
and the distant drift of water,
the river, always standing beside the river,
broken promises to the bottle,
empty, thrown and shattered on hot
gray rocks, the damn sun overhead,
and the crows i always see
circling above me, waiting,
so i walk away, indignant,

Not too long after writing this I quit doing drugs and stopped drinking every day (for a while, at least -- the drinking returned in college). I have spent the last twenty years trying to heal the wounds that haunted me for those years, and that I accrued during those years. I think it was Jung who said we spend the rest of our lives healing the damage from the first 20 years.

Along the way, I found some cathartic music that helps -- it's always easier when you know you are not the only one who feels a given way.

Gotta love Trent Reznor. Broken, if it had been released in the 1980s, would have been the soundtrack to my decay. But in many ways, it was a distinctly 90s album, dependent on the birth of industrial music for its sound and textures.

Anyway, this film plunged me into some deep shadow stuff. Which is useful, I think. It's been a while since I have plumbed the depths of my teen years. I used to hate that punk-ass kid with all the piercings and spiked jewelry, that little fuck-up who couldn't cope and created so much chaos for everyone and anyone who cared about him.

But now, looking back (after some years of good therapy), I just wish I could hold him and tell him it won't always be that way. The pain does heal. The chaos does become order. But kids at that age can never see that far-- it all seems so immediate to them. Whatever pain they feel seems as though it is the whole world. For me, at least, it all seemed like it would last forever, that I would always be in pain and wanting to drown myself in oblivion.

Growing up is tough in the best conditions -- its hellish in bad conditions.

Speedlinking 9/14/07

Quote of the day:

"If there are no stupid questions, then what kind of questions do stupid people ask? Do they get smart just in time to ask questions?"
~ Scott Adams

Image of the day (John Craig):

~ Bye Bye Back Pain -- "Have you ever suffered from a back pain so badly that it was hard to breathe, twist and bend? Chances are, you have. Back pain is a complaint of many Americans, but researchers are now saying that all you need to do is start moving."
~ Knee arthritis may be sign of early lung cancer (Reuters) -- "Having isolated arthritis in one knee could be an early warning sign for lung cancer, Italian researchers suggest."
~ Snack smart to stay energized -- "For some people, snacks can be a key to their good health and nutrition; for others, snacks may be their greatest downfall."
~ Healthy claims fool diners into eating extra -- "People who opt for a meal at a “healthy” restaurant often consume more calories than they would dining at fast food joints that make no health claims, a new study shows."
~ Teens’ unhealthy weight affects later fertility -- "Teenagers who are either underweight or obese are likely to have fewer children in adulthood, a study has found."
~ Sex Drive Low in Men Over 30 -- "A lack of sex drive and erectile dysfunction may be a result of low testosterone levels in men over 30, according to new research."
~ The dirty truth? You can be too clean -- "A dose of dirt could be the best medicine for preventing allergies in kids who've never had them."
~ Deconstructing 'detox' diets -- "In recent years the number of diet developers and holistic healers hawking products to purge your body of harmful chemicals and foreign substances has exploded. But how to know whether you should be trying any of them?" The best detox diet is healthy, organic whole foods -- fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lean meats.

~ Tamoxifen Treats Manic Phase Of Bipolar Disorder -- "The medication tamoxifen, best known as a treatment for breast cancer, dramatically reduces symptoms of the manic phase of bipolar disorder more quickly than many standard medications for the mental illness, a new study shows."
~ Brain's memory may be less than thought -- "If you can't remember where you left the car keys, take comfort in a new study that suggests the brain's memory capacity may be far lower than once thought."
~ Body of Evidence: Making Sense of Your World -- "How your five senses put you on the path to wellness."
~ The Psychology Of Our Desire For Chocolate -- "Chocolate is the most widely and frequently craved food. People readily admit to being 'addicted to chocolate' or willingly label themselves as 'chocoholics'. A popular explanation for this is that chocolate contains mood-enhancing (psychoactive) ingredients that give it special appeal.Evidence and logic, however, find little support for this."
~ Neurobiology Of Human Intelligence -- "A primary mystery puzzling neuroscientists -- where in the brain lies intelligence? -- just may have a unified answer.In a review of 37 imaging studies related to intelligence, including their own, Richard Haier of the University of California, Irvine and Rex Jung of the University of New Mexico have uncovered evidence of a distinct neurobiology of human intelligence."
~ Self-Confidence: 4 Thinking Patterns on How to Communicate with Self Confidence. By Emmanuel Segui -- "One thing common to all great communicators is that when they speak, everybody listens. However, communicating to people is one of the greatest fears...."
~ change and transformation -- "how does change occur? this is what nancy asked on her blog a few days ago. a money coach, she was confronted with a client who wanted to get some assurance that, were she to use nancy’s services, change would indeed happen."

~ Civilian Death Toll in Iraq May Top One Million -- "Tina Susman reports for The Los Angeles Times, "A car bomb blew up in the capital's Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Sadr City on Thursday, killing at least four people, as a new survey suggested that the civilian death toll from the war could be more than 1 million."
~ Disturbing Facts about Sexual Abuse -- "From research by economists J.J. Prescott and Jonah Rockoff, here are a few current statistics on sex offenses reported to the police..."
~ Geeks Roll Out for Ron Paul -- "Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul was given a warm reception in this liberal stronghold on Thursday as Silicon Valley professionals turned out to support the GOP candidate."
~ White House Report: Few Iraq Gains -- "A new White House report on Iraq shows slim progress, moving just one political and security goal into the satisfactory column: de-Baathification."
~ Paul Volcker: How to Fix the World Bank -- "The World Bank, reeling from scandal and questions about its role, needs to get its act together, says former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Paul Volcker."
~ Gingrich: No Match for Clinton -- "Former speaker says GOP candidates not running campaigns that can defeat the Clinton machine."
~ Renters face own housing crisis -- "On both coasts of the United States, and many cities in between, hundreds of thousands of renters face spiraling costs. The home mortgage crisis has received far more notice, but experts say the ranks of renters with dire housing problems are growing faster than the ranks of defaulting homeowners."
~ Ancient Scots Mummified Their Dead -- "Extensive preparation was applied to bodies from prehistoric Scotland."

~ Famed '$100 Laptop' Now $188 -- "The vaunted "$100 laptop" that Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers dreamed up for international schoolchildren is becoming a slightly more distant concept."
~ Voyager Probes Celebrate 30th Anniversary -- "This fall, exceeding all expectations, the probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are celebrating their 30th year in space! Launched in 1977 to explore the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn, they went on to fly by Uranus and Neptune as well as 48 of the four planets’ moons. By 1989, Voyager 2 had had its closest approach to Neptune, revealing many previously unknown details about its atmosphere, wind, and weather patterns. In 1998, Voyager 1 passed Pioneer 10 to become the most distant human-made object in space, a title which it retains."
~ Northwest Passage Opens Up -- "Arctic ice melting is clearing a path for a trade route."
~ O Canada, what are you doing? -- "Our civilization's addiction to oil is being displayed in all its nefarious glory in the tar sands of Canada."
~ U.S. Cities Facing More Bad Air Days -- "Ten cities are expected to experience higher levels of ground-level ozone."
~ Why is the Hercules Dwarf Galaxy so flat? -- "Through some of the very first scientific observations with the brand-new Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona, an international team of astronomers has found that a recently discovered tiny companion galaxy to our Milky Way, named the Hercules Dwarf Galaxy, has truly exceptional properties: while basically all of its known peers in the realm of these tiny dwarf galaxies are rather round, this galaxy at a distance of 430,000 Light Years appears highly flattened, either the shape of a disk or of a cigar."
~ PETA's dogma is all bark and no bite -- "The group's campaign is based mainly on a United Nations report released last November. That report is about the environmental impact of livestock, but it doesn't examine wild sources of meat, and it notes that some types of meat are more environmentally preferable than others -- poultry is better than beef, for example. PETA also shoves aside the report's conclusion that many of the environmental harms caused by livestock production can be mitigated through better agricultural practices."
~ The Packaging Crisis - Shopping Bags -- "For the next two parts of the look at shopping bags, we are going to take a look at what we can do to reduce the use of plastic shopping bags and mostly at what has been done already and the effects it has had. Countries and individual provinces and states around the world are taking steps to get rid of disposable shopping bags and setting an excellent example for the rest of the world to follow."

~ From Belief to Faith -- This is a promotion for the current ISC offering, but it includes a brief look at the attempts of atheists to dismiss all belief in the wake of Mother Teresa's "dark night."
~ The Seven Integral Steps of Transformative Empowerment Healing for Full Abuse Recovery -- "Almost everyone knows someone who has been abused and still shows the effects of that abuse. Many individuals and even some psychologists still think of being healed from abuse in the traditional terms of recovery success as defined as “getting back to as close to as possible to where you were just before you were abused.” Today, because of the following new Transformational Empowerment Healing steps, that old standard is simply too low and no longer applicable."
~ Dust and Feathers -- "The Bad Dog! postings I’ll be sharing are about things – the stories, events, and images of things I have known and observed for myself. We all have lives and no one’s life is a generalization. Our lives are singular events that lie right before us in all their curious detail and beauty."
~ No Self -- "Jed McKenna says in his book, _Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing_, that we can't find our true selves because the true self does not exist. There is only false self and no self. Journeys of self exploration only perfect the ego, one's dream character. Most people aren't awake because they dread the nothingness of no self."
~ Religious, But Not Spiritual? -- "It takes a moment to reconcile oneself to the fact that the religious tradition of St. Francis and Mother Theresa is also the tradition of the Crusades and the Inquisition. Fr. Thomas Keating, considered one of the great contemplatives of our time, has spent a lifetime in the practice of Christianity, seeking and sharing its depths. The goal of the tradition, suggests Fr. Thomas in this week's video, is transformation—but transformation into what?" Includes 15 minute video of Fr. Keating in discussion with Ken Wilber.
~ Joyless Responsibility -- "But sometimes we have to take responsibility that is joyless, a burden, a thankless chore. For a few weeks each year when the fledglings are young, the adult birds in our yard look disheveled, exhausted. They know, I suppose, that it will pass, so they labour on, but they look tragic, unnatural. For many humans, too, responsibility is thrust on us unasked, even unfairly, and in our modern fractured nuclear society it is rarely shared."

Daily Dharma: Enlightening Beings

Today's Daily Dharma from Tricycle:

Enlightening beings

Enlightening beings are like lotus flowers,
With roots of kindness, stems of peace,
Petals of wisdom,
Fragrance of conduct.

Enlightening beings turn the wheel of teaching
Just like what the buddhas turn;
Conduct is its hub, concentration the spokes;
Knowledge is their adornment, wisdom is their sword.

~ The Flower Ornament Scripture, trans. by Thomas Cleary; From Everyday Mind, a Tricycle book edited by Jean Smith.

Billy Collins: Some Days

Another animated poem by Billy Collins.

Billy Collins, former US Poet Laureate and one of America's best-selling poets, reads his poem "Some Days" with animation by Julian Grey of Headgear.

Noted for their intelligent humor, accessibility and observations on daily life, Collins' popular poems come alive further in a series of animated poems produced by JWT-NY.


Dangerous Knowledge

This is a cool documentary.

In this documentary, David Malone looks at four brilliant mathematicians - Georg Cantor, Ludwig Boltzmann, Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing - whose genius has profoundly affected us, but which tragically drove them insane and eventually led to them all committing suicide.

The film begins with Georg Cantor, the great mathematician whose work proved to be the foundation for much of the 20th-century mathematics. He believed he was God's messenger and was eventually driven insane trying to prove his theories of infinity. Ludwig Boltzmann's struggle to prove the existence of atoms and probability eventually drove him to suicide. Kurt Gödel, the introverted confidant of Einstein, proved that there would always be problems which were outside human logic. His life ended in a sanatorium where he starved himself to death.

Finally, Alan Turing, the great Bletchley Park code breaker, father of computer science and homosexual, died trying to prove that some things are fundamentally unprovable.

The film also talks to the latest in the line of thinkers who have continued to pursue the question of whether there are things that mathematics and the human mind cannot know. They include Greg Chaitin, mathematician at the IBM TJ Watson Research Center, New York, and Roger Penrose.

Dangerous Knowledge tackles some of the profound questions about the true nature of reality that mathematical thinkers are still trying to answer today.


Satire: Scientists Isolate Area Of Brain That Doesn't Like Poking

Now this is funny -- especially since I post so much brain research in my speedlinks. From The Onion:

Scientists Isolate Area Of Brain That Doesn't Like Poking
September 14, 2007 | Issue 43•37

BETHESDA, MD—After an extensive six-month study using an electroencephalogram and a finger, researchers at the National Institutes of Health have discovered the section of the human brain that responds unfavorably to poking.

"We found a direct link between this negative effect and our finger pressing on a particular area of the brain," said neuroscientist Matthew Redman Monday, who conducted the study on 12 healthy participants. "After analyzing our data and testing and retesting our subjects, we finally identified this region as the surface area of the brain."

Redman added that science has still barely scratched the surface of this intricate and fascinating organ, though he intends to keep doing so as soon as he receives his grant.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Gratitude 9/13/07

Some things I am grateful for today:

1) I finally watched Peaceful Warrior, the film based on Dan Millman's book. Funny thing, I read this book way before I started studying Buddhism. Watching the film, I am amazed at how much Socrates sounds like Chogyam Trungpa in Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior. Maybe it's just me. Despite all the cliche, this is a nice film.

2) I talked with a friend I hadn't spoken with in a while -- it was nice to touch base.

3) Tomorrow is light day, which is always nice on a Friday.

What are you grateful for today.

Speedlinking 9/13/07

Quote of the day:

"There are two ways to slide easily through life; to believe everything or to doubt everything. Both ways save us from thinking."
~ Alfred Korzybski

Image of the day:

~ Maximum Recruitment Training I -- "When anyone talks about training for any goal, they need to consider force, speed, and muscle fiber recruitment. They're the gears that are driving the bus, and Chad Waterbury is at the wheel. Remember, though, that the driver carries no change."
~ Muscle Mass Accretion Training: My Top 3 Mass-Building Tips! -- "In a nutshell, all fibers are involved in a set, but specific ones are emphasized for the duration... Learn more about these 3 tips and how they can help with muscle gain: Explosive pre-sets, Negatives, & Spot-Accretion." This is advanced stuff.
~ Honey 'could counter the effects of ageing' -- "Honey could help counter the effects of ageing and decrease anxiety, according to a study. Scientists found a diet sweetened with honey improved memory and reduced anxiety."
~ How Much Protein Do You Need To Build Muscle? -- "You want to build muscle? Make sure muscle recovery occurs faster than muscle breakdown. Give your body what it needs to build muscles. That’s why you must eat your proteins."
~ Personal Best : Sleep After Hard Workouts? You Must Be Dreaming -- "An exercise paradox: a walk wakes you up, but hard training will run you down." A nap after a hard workout speeds recovery in my experience.
~ Stomach Virus a Culprit in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome -- "A father's concern for his son led to research that now sheds new light on a disease that has long been shrouded in mystery."
~ Rediscovering Protein - Corrective Action in the American Diet -- "Protein must be a part of a healthy diet for a simple reason: it is essential for life. Every single cell in the human body — including bones, blood, skin, chemicals, and enzymes — depend on protein for effective operation."
~ Aspartame manufacturer funds junk science that declares aspartame to be safe (opinion) -- "Ajinomoto, a top manufacturer of aspartame, has announced that aspartame is completely safe. This conclusion was reached by a panel of industry-friendly "experts" hired by Ajinomoto, who did no new research but, instead, selectively reviewed previous studies on the safety of aspartame (many of which were funded by aspartame manufacturers in the first place)." This is an opinion piece, but it's good.

~ Sick? Lonely? Genes tell the tale -- "Lonely people are more likely to get sick and die young, and researchers said on Thursday they may have found out why -- their immune systems are haywire."
~ Agitation And Psychotic Symptoms Of Dementia Respond Well To Antidepressant Treatment -- "Researchers have found surprising evidence that an antidepressant (citalopram) may perform as well as a commonly-prescribed antipsychotic (risperidone) in the alleviation of severe agitation and psychotic symptoms of dementia. Researchers also found that the antidepressant was associated with "significantly lower" adverse side effects."
~ Paranoid Personality Disorder -- "The "paranoid" in PPD doesn't generally refer to a person with delusions or psychosis, but rather to someone who is constantly suspicious and distrustful of others."
~ 10 Grateful Steps to Happiness -- "PsyBlog has gone gratitude-mad this week, what with reporting experimental evidence that practicing gratitude can increase happiness by 25% and reviewing 'thanks' , the book by the study's author. To round it off here are Dr Robert Emmons' top 10 tips for actually becoming more grateful, and consequently more happy."
~ Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion -- " I just want to make one point, however, that should give contractualists pause: surveys have long shown that religious believers in the United States are happier, healthier, longer-lived, and more generous to charity and to each other than are secular people." This article is from Edge #222.
~ Learned Hopelessness & Your Health -- "Learned helplessness and hopelessness are terms that have come into our vocabulary principally through the research of authentic happiness and learned optimism (click here to test yourself on learned optism) psychologist Martin Seligmann, who has been referred to here in this blog in the past."
~ Dead End Therapy -- "You understand your problem perfectly. You know when it happens, how it happens, and you can have a pretty good stab at why it's happening. You even, theoretically, know what needs to change, for it to stop happening. But all this knowledge is absolutely useless to you when the problem arises. Nothing changes."
~ Body Image and Fear of Intimacy -- "Fear of intimacy is often exacerbated or made worse by a negative body image. Here's how to improve your body image and strengthen your relationships."

~ Two good mythology sites: Theoi Greek Mythology and Encyclopedia Mythica.
~ Mike Miley: Smells Like Teen Spirit ... and Tater Tots -- "This past Labor Day weekend, L.A. radio station KROQ aired their Top 500 Songs of the 90s (twice), which meant that they played essentially 85% of their normal playlist. For a child who came of age in the 90s, however, this countdown was no ordinary countdown; this was a high school reunion, especially since I listened to music a whole lot more than I hung out with people during those years. It only took two or three songs for this broadcast to take the form of a Proustian madeleine, to the point that I was no longer sitting in traffic, I was sitting back in the cafeteria where my life changed."
~ WorkPlace: When the Rich Make Too Much: Is it Time for a Maximum Wage? -- "That "one solution," suggests Howard Gardner, the Harvard-based psychologist whose widely acclaimed books on human intelligence have been translated into 26 languages, ought to be a cap on the income and wealth that any one individual can accumulate."
~ David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises reviewed -- "David Cronenberg's elegant treatise on the metaphysics of violence, begins with twin jets of blood: A man in a barber's chair has his throat cut by a mentally deficient would-be gangster, while elsewhere in London, a teenager in labor begs for help in a pharmacy, blood pouring from between her legs."
~ Ansen on the Toronto Film Festival -- "The movies in this year’s Toronto Film Festival were collectively like a wayback machine to the obsessions—and the memorable filmmaking—of the ’60s and ’70s."
~ What the President Means to Say... -- "Viewpoint: In his speech, Bush will endorse General Petraeus's plan for a small troop drawdown. But it's hard to escape the impression that we're just treading water in Iraq."
~ Politics: Failing Electoral College -- "Rob Richie | As California Republicans seek to game the dysfunctional Electoral College, a campaign is rising to establish a national popular vote."

~ Researchers improve ability to write and store information on electronic devices -- "New research led by the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory physicist Matthias Bode provides a more thorough understanding of new mechanisms, which makes it possible to switch a magnetic nanoparticle without any magnetic field and may enable computers to more accurately write and store information."
~ Crosses $11 Million in Microloans to Developing Nations -- "San Franciso-based, a microfinance non-profit organization founded in 2005, is one of the best success stories of the charitable web. We first profiled it back in January. In just 2 years, the site has funded nearly 17,000 loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries, and last week the total amount of those loans crossed the $11 million mark."
~ Judge hits auto makers, allows Vermont to limit emissions -- "In a blow to US automakers, a federal judge has ruled that the state of Vermont can set limits on car emissions believed to contribute to global warming, rejecting arguments that only the US government can regulate the industry."
~ 188 More Species Deemed Near Extinction -- "Today the World Conservation Union (also known, for reason to arcane to go into, as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources or IUCN) came out with its "Red List" of species threatened with extinction. There are 188 additions to the list, bringing the total up to 16,306."
~ Salmon Spawn Baby Trout in Experiment -- "Papa salmon plus mama salmon equals ... baby trout? Japanese researchers put a new spin on surrogate parenting as they engineered one fish species to produce another, in a quest to preserve endangered fish."
~ Zebrafish to shed light on human mitochondrial diseases -- "Zebrafish can now be used to study COX deficiencies in humans, a discovery that gives scientists an unprecedented window to view the earliest stages of mitochondrial impairments that lead to potentially fatal metabolic disorders, according to researchers at the University of Oregon."
~ Oldest stars may shed light on dark matter -- "The universe`s earliest stars may hold clues to the nature of dark matter, the mysterious stuff that makes up most of the universe`s matter but doesn`t interact with light, cosmologists report."

~ The Integral Approach -- "The Offical Integral Institute Statement "Integral" means "inclusive, balanced, comprehensive." The Integral approach may be contrasted to other methods—mythic, rational-scientific, pluralistic—which, as they themselves announce, exclude other approaches as being inferior. They are thus, by definition, partial and incomplete."
~ The Secret to Growing Older -- "It has begun. The conspiratorial conversations held in women’s bathrooms, at local coffee shops and shady alleyway bars to the blips and beats of techno behind us. “I could dance all night in stilettos double this height,” she tells me, gesturing at the dance floor and her feet in a single sweep of an arm."
~ More obviously unique -- "The conventional guideline for correct language is to use the word unique without the qualifiers of more or less. It is a binary situation. Something is either unique or not, so adding more or less is unnecessary."
~ Getting There, by David Wagoner -- A great poem.
~ Butt-Kicking Buddhist -- "You can look through all 8,263 titles about Zen Buddhism on Amazon. com, but not one will prepare you for the thorny path to Nirvana offered at the Santa Monica Zen Center." Hmmm....
~ Common Illusory Body -- "Last night at our Yamantaka class, my teacher Geshe Loden spoke of the practice of the common Illusory body and how one can take this practice into everyday life. The practice is a method of seeing all events as like an illusion in order to not get sucked into these false appearances. The practice originated from Pandit Naropa an 11th century Buddhist mystic."
~ Redefining Integral -- "A few days back I posted an essay on the new, postwilberian, Integral Praxis blog, called Redefining the Integral. I’m glad to see there’s already some discussion happening there."

Daily Om: Stronger Than You Know

Today's Daily Om is a good reminder than we can handle almost anything that creates fear in us, if we simply learn how to do it.

Stronger Than You Know
Getting Ourselves Worked Up

Our capacity to cope successfully with life's challenges far outstrips our capacity to feel nervousness. Yet in the weeks, days, and hours leading up to an event that we believe will test our limits, we can become nervous. While we may have previously regarded ourselves as equal to the trials that lie ahead, we reach a point at which they near and our anxiety begins to mount. We then become increasingly worked up, until the moment of truth arrives and we discover that our worry was all for nothing. We are almost always stronger and more capable than we believe ourselves to be. But anxiety is not rational in nature, which means that in most cases we cannot work through it using logic as our only tool. Reason can help us recognize the relative futility of unwarranted worry but, more often than not, we will find more comfort in patterns of thought and activity that redirect our attention to practical or engaging matters.

Most of us find it remarkably difficult to focus on two distinct thoughts or emotions at once, and we can use this natural human limitation to our advantage when trying to stay centered in the period leading up to a potentially tricky experience. When we concentrate on something unrelated to our worry—such as deep breathing, visualizations of success, pleasurable pursuits, or exercise—anxiety dissipates naturally. Meditation is also a useful coping mechanism as it provides us with a means to ground ourselves in the moment. Our guides can aid us by providing us with a focal point wholly outside of our own sphere.

The intense emotional flare-up you experience just before you are set to challenge yourself is often a mixture of both excitement and fear. When you take steps to eliminate the fear, you can more fully enjoy the excitement. Though you may find it difficult to avoid getting worked up, your awareness of the forces acting on your feelings will help you return to your center and accept that few hurdles you will face will be as high as they at first appear.

Village Voice: Fall Books Preview

I missed this when it was posted a week ago, but they take a look at some good books. More importantly, they try to create a context for the books they are looking at.

From The Village Voice:

In the Dark
by Giles Harvey
September 5th, 2007

If you strain your eyes for a moment and look beyond the smokescreen of hyperbole, mawkishness, and more or less euphonious drivel to be found in the pages of the publishers' catalogs, it is plain to see that in the oversaturated and underfed marketplace of literature, business is going on very much as usual: Philip Roth has written another novel about what it's like to be a novelist in American; John Updike has decided that the time has once again come to garner the fruits of his journalistic endeavors into a stout block of prose; J.M. Coetzee continues his attempts to wrestle the materially comfortable portion of mankind out of its complacency; and so on.

Beneath it all, however, one senses a dark current tugging at the contemporary imagination. Indeed, as unregulated American capitalism continues to rape the earth and infantilize the minds of millions, and the doltish brinkmanship of the administration inches the world ever closer to the end of days, it is no surprise to find that rage, disgust, and terror should register not infrequently on the sensitivity radars of our foremost authors. From Roth's The Ghost Writer we can expect such fulminations as: "The despising without remission that constitutes being a conscientious citizen in the reign of George W. Bush was not for one who had developed a strong interest in surviving as reasonably serene—and so I began to annihilate the abiding wish to find out."

Or again, here is Coetzee, in a remarkable sentence-long epic, summarizing the career of Tony Blair, and providing a needful antidote to the fawning valedictions that have marked the end of his premiership: "An ordinary little middle-class boy with all the correct attitudes (the rich should subsidize the poor, the military should be kept on a tight rein, civil rights should be defended against the inroads of the state), but with no philosophical grounding and little capacity for introspection, and with no inner compass save personal ambition, embarks on the voyage of politics, with all its warping forces, and ends up an enthusiast for entrepreneurial greed and the sedulous monkey of masters in Washington, turning a dutifully blind eye (see no evil, hear no evil) while their shadowy agents assassinate, torture and 'disappear' opponents at will."

But things cannot be as bleak as they seem so long as there are books and a little leisure time in which to read them. Emerson put it rather well: "Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst. What is the right use? What is the one end, which all means go to effect? They are for nothing but to inspire."

Read the reviews at their site.