There but for fortune
The Soul, of late a lovely sleeping child,
Spreads sudden wings and stands in radiant guise,
Eyed like the morn and bent upon the skies;
Her the blue gulf dismays not, nor the wild
Horizons with the wrecks of thunder piled;
Storm has she known, and how its murmur dies
Starlike through stainless heavens she would rise
And be no more with cloudy dreams beguiled.
Was sleep not sweet?–sweet till on sleeping ears
Earth’s voices broke in discord. Now she hears
Far, far away diviner music move;
Nor shall her wing be sated of its flight,
Nor shall her eyes be weary of the night,
While round her sweep the singing stars of Love.
Enid Derham was born this day in 1882
What can we learn from those who have had transcendant experiences?
William James and Evelyn Underhill both wrote in the early Twentieth Century, collecting accounts from people who had had mystical experiences. Underhill had experiences of her own, but James studied them from the outside only. His conclusion was that such experiences were compelling for those who had them as a glimpse of a reality subsuming our quotiden reality; but that we who were on the outside need not be convinced if we preferred to remain in a state bounded by logic and sense impressions.
Among other things, I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living Presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life. It was not a conviction that I would have eternal life, but a consciousness that I possessed eternal life then; I saw that all men are immortal; that the cosmic order is such that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all; that the foundation principle of the world, of all the worlds, is what we call love, and that the happiness of each and all is in the long run absolutely certain. The vision lasted a few seconds and was gone; but the memory of it and the sense of the reality of what it taught has remained during the quarter of a century which has since elapsed.R. M. Bucke: Cosmic Consciousness, as quoted by Wm James
…something in myself made me feel myself a part of something bigger than I, that was controlling. I felt myself one with the grass, the trees, birds, insects, everything in Nature. I exulted in the mere fact of existence, of being a part of it all—the drizzling rain, the shadows of the clouds, the tree-trunks, and so on.Quoted by Wm James from Edwin starbuck
Blessed with diverse projects
Today, I take time to be grateful for the diversity of activities that engage different areas of my body, mind, and soul.
In Modern Times, people feel lucky to land a job where they specialize in doing one task really well, and doing it over and over.
I don’t have a job, but many rewarding projects.
- A survey study to collect questionnaires from thousands of biohackers who seek to extend their life expectancy with diet, exercise, and supplements.
- A cycle of poems, classical Petrarchian sonnets inspired by each of the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching.
- A computer model to study the physiology and ecology of a colony of lab worms, passing through cycles of population expansion followed by overcrowding and starvation.
- A web site modeled after Wikileaks in which whistleblowers can deposit biomedical databases anonymously.
- Researching some controversial topics at the edges of scientific possibility,
- Playing piano with string players in chamber music groups.
- Providing support and encouragement to friends who are not yet pursuing their dreams.
- A project I never would have voluntarily chosen: rehabilitating an athletic body after a devastating encounter with a speeding car.
The most rewarding thing that I do is to teach a yoga class. A voice comes through me that offers guidance on the road of life to my students and to myself. I have been teaching one yoga class a week since 1977.
An automobile that is a single molecule
Jim Tour won a competition to build the fastest car made on a molecular scale. His car was made of 50 atoms.
Life does this kind of thing all the time. There are molecular machines that do mechanical and chemical tasks as well as the expected chemical tasks.
But designing molecular machines artificially is new. This is nanotechnology in the extreme.
The winning vehicle was from James Tour’s Rice University laboratory. It covered the 150 nanometer race course in only 1½ hours. That’s an average speed of just about half of a tenth of a billionth of a mile per hour.
Compare this to a natural enzyme, DNA polymerase, which copies a chromosome, one base at a time. DNA polymerase creeps along the chromosome at a speed a million times faster than Tour’s winning racecar, even as it stops along the way at each base and grabs a complementary base from the surrounding plasma, puts it in place, and moves on.
The Swiss Nano-Dragster team finished second, 5 hours behind the winner. No other entries completed the race course.
Here’s a description of how the nanocar was manufactured, and how it was modified for the successor nanocar that competed in a follow-up race in 2022.
Superconductor news and why you should be excited
Superconductivity was discovered more than 100 years ago. Electricity can be carried on a wire with exactly zero resistance. Think of hundreds of thousands of miles of wires in this country alone, with huge transformers that ramp up the voltage to hundreds of thousands of volts in order to minimize losses in the wire (which are inversely proportional to voltage) — and still transmission losses are over 20% between the power plant and your home.
The catch has always been that superconductivity only happens at very low temperatures — so low that the metal must be bathed in liquid helium, just a few degrees above absolute zero. Not so practical.
Then, in 1986, an exotic material was manufactured that conducted at temperatures that were low but not ultra-low. We’re talking in the neighborhood of 100 degrees above absolute zero, which is still deep in negative territory by usual standards. Liquid nitrogen could be used in place of liquid helium. Liquid nitrogen is a much more common and cheaper material, easier to make and much easier to store; and our atmosphere has a limitless supply of nitrogen, whereas helium is rare and expensive.
Liquid nitrogen is cheap enough, but the alloys that conduct at liquid nitrogen temperature are difficult to manufacture and to shape into wires, and they contain rare earths. So there have been no practical applications. The biggest magnets in the world, using huge currents that require superconductivity, are buried under the Alps at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN). These still use conventional liquid helium superconductors, though there is perpetual talk about switching them over to “high-temperature” superconductors, where “high temperature” means liquid nitrogen.
Just this Tuesday, a physicist from University of Rochester spoke at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society, where he announced he had a material that superconducts at room temperature — no refrigeration needed. Wednesday, their paper appeared in Nature.
There are lots of caveats.
- The superconducting material is made from lutetium. If you haven’t heard of lutetium, I can’t blame you. It’s hard to find, and costs three times as much as gold.
- Its superconductivity depends on an enormous pressure, available routinely in physics labs but not commercially practical.
- About half the physicists who look at the data are not convinced that the Rochester lab is really seeing superconductivity.
- …because, sadly, the Rochester group has had a controversial history with accusations of fraudulent scientific claims.
Still, it’s an exciting time. If the discovery pans out, it’s a whole new class of materials in a whole new temperature range. This announcement is sure to lead to new lines of research and a spate of new discoveries. Stay tuned.
Farmers fighting for our food supply
Family farmers in Belgium and the Netherlands are being forced off their land by pollution rules that emanate from the EU. Under the pretense of opposing global warming, these rules actually have the effect of forcing small farmers to sell out to agribusiness.
The farmers are not taking this lying down. There are massive demonstrations in Brussels now, as there were in the Netherlands last year.
These farmers are acting heroically, and it is shameful that our media in America and even in Europe are giving them so little coverage.