How to Be a Genius: An Instruction Manual

It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.

— Gertrude Stein, born this day in 1874blog-rest

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Why does God’s love feel so much like death?

I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped and shot precipitated
Adown titanic glooms of chasmèd fears
From those strong feet that followed, followed after
But with unhurrying chase and unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat, and a Voice beat,
More instant than the feet:
‘All things betray thee who betrayest me.’

The author of this poem spends a lifetime fleeing, feeling desperate, raw terror. In the poem, he knows all along it is the love of God from which he flees.

What am I running from? Why is it uncomfortable to sit still? Why do feel always that I’m waiting for the next thing?

In the end, he loses the chase and feels the enveloping feeling of love together with an overpowering humility.  Perhaps it is the humility from which am fleeing…

‘Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest me.’

Perhaps Francis Thompson sensed his life would be cut short.  Unable to support himself as a young writer, he battled mental dissolution and addiction, was picked up off the street and sheltered for a time by a prostitute.  After three years homeless on the streets of London, he was discovered by a literary magazine, and cared for while his health returned.

How many other geniuses have had equally poignant lives?  Poe, Schumann, Coleridge, George Price, Steve Jobs…  How many more whose genius was never ‘discovered’, and lived out lives of silent desperation to the end?

Read the full poem, or listen.

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Whose money? Our money!

The Aliens land in San Juan and see devastation everywhere, downed poles and rubble of fallen buildings remain months after Hurricane Maria.  They ask their human guide to help them understand.

“I guess there isn’t enough manpower to clean up this huge mess.”

“No, actually there are lots of unemployed construction workers in San Juan who would like nothing better than to take this up.”

“So there must be a shortage of building material?”

“No, actually we have warehouses full of surplus material.”

“So why isn’t this mess being repaired?  Where is the bottleneck?”

“Well, you see, there are these pieces of green paper, and we all have agreed to use them when we decide how….”

“Beam me up, Scottie.  There’s no intelligent life on this planet.”

[I first heard this joke from Ellen Brown.]

It’s not just Puerto Rico—the entire American economy has been languishing for decades. The unemployment rate is so high that our government dares not report it accurately.  People who don’t have a job feel desperately insecure, and people who hate their jobs won’t look for another one because they think this is just the way things have to be.

The purpose of money is to lubricate the exchange of goods and services, to make it easy for people to offer their labor and to get what they need.  It isn’t working.  Jeff Bezos and Lloyd Blankfein have more little pieces of green paper than they know what to do with, while some of the rest of us wonder how we can get enough of them to pay our rent.

Call your Congressman!  Tell him to print more money!

Well, actually it may be too late for that—about 104 years too late.  While our Constitution assigns to Congress the exclusive power “To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof,” there was a bill passed by a handful of Congressmen who snuck into the Capitol on Christmas eve, 1913, and gave this power to a private consortium of banks called the Federal Reserve.

So it’s the Fed that decides how much money the US economy needs.  Maybe they’re making the decision in the long-term best interest of the American citizen; or maybe they’e considering the long-term best interest of the Fed’s member banks….

But we’re not without resources to repair this situation.  We want to offer our services to one another.  We want to receive what our neighbors have to offer.   If greenbacks are in short supply, we can mediate the exchange with something else.  Barter.  Skills banks.  Credit unions.  Community-based currencies.  Here are stories of how eleven American communities took the matter in hand and created money from thin air.  Number two is my home town.

There’s nothing magic about it.  Any community that can offer value can create money.cascadia-hour-currency-jc

Science advances; the scientific world-view remains stuck

What has become entrenched as the “scientific world-view” is the foundation of our secular values and reasoning.  For those of us without a religious tradition, it is the basis of our ideas about how the world works and who we are.  But in what sense is the “scientific world-view” scientific?  It grew out of 19th Century science, and has never been updated.  It is no longer compatible with known science.


Thermodynamics and Evolutionary Theory.  These were two triumphs of 19th Century science that told us how order may emerge from randomness.

The first gave rise to the idea that the physics of atoms could explain chemistry.  From the second arose the idea that life (and consequently human minds) are products of chance in a world of chemistry.  The universe is a clockwork of atoms that know only the attractions and repulsions of their neighbors.  All order, all life and mind, comes about through  the laws of chance.

This led to a philosophy rooted in meaninglessness that dominated Western thought from Nietzsche through Sartre, and still has a pervasive (perversive?) influence today.  “Humanism” is its best face: “We’re going to have to supply our own sense of what is good and beautiful because the world is only atoms, and we are an insignificant part of the whole.”

In the 20th Century a funny thing happened: The science behind this world-view collapsed but the world-view had a life of its own.  As a philosophy and an attitude, this idea continues to weigh us down, though its scientific underpinnings have become untenable.  

A) First is the discovery that pure thought can influence quantum phenomena on a tiny scale, and through the “butterfly” effect might come to make large-scale changes.  Originally, this was a consequence of the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics, but now it has been verified experimentally in the works of (for example) Dean Radin and Robert Jahn.  Quantum entanglement is a reality in our brains, and since single nerve-firings can lead to whole new ideas, our thoughts are linked with one another and with the outside world in ways that stretch our imagination.

B) Second is the discovery that the laws of physics and the properties (like charge and mass and spin) of elementary particles are fine-tuned in a way that makes life possible.  The old view was that there are a few arbitrary, mathematically elegant rules about the way particles behave, and also a few arbitrary numbers, like how much the particles weigh and how strong the forces are.  Life just took the given physical rules as raw material and put together (by chance) some combinations that could make copies of themselves, and the rest of the story was explained by natural selection.  Well, this story no longer hangs together.  In the 1970s came the discovery that the physical rules are not arbitrary, but quite special.  If we changed the rules just a little bit in any direction, we would have a universe in which nothing interesting ever happened—For example, one kind of tiny change leads to no stars or galaxies; change the rules in another direction and all atoms would be hydrogen, so there’s no chemistry at all.   

There is a remarkable “coincidence” to be explained, and just two interpretations have been proposed:

      1. 1. The more conventional view is that there are zillions of different universes with no one to look at them or describe them, and the reason we find ourselves in this one is that it is one of a tiny set in which complexity of any kind is possible.  (Yes, this is now the

    standard view of cosmology.  To my mind, this huge number of undetectable universes is a lot of baggage for any theory to have to carry.)

    2. The other idea is that conscious awareness has an independent existence, and is more fundamental than physics, thus matter, space and time, with all the physical laws, were co-created by consciousness–perhaps as a kind of playground.  (This idea is conventionally regarded as mystical, but it ties together the psychic research cited above, and it avoids references to a billion billion billion universes we can never see or touch.  Personally, I like it much better.)

    3.  

      There is no #3.  I have never seen any other proposed explanation of the extraordinary good fortune that gave us laws of physics that can support complexity in general and life in particular.

C) One more change in our basic understanding is not yet so well-accepted as the first two, but it is well on its way.  It is beginning to look as thought the problem of the origin of life has no conventional solutions.  In other words, after 70 years of trying, no one has been able to come up with a plausible scenario for the first molecule or set of molecules that could reproduce itself.  Attempts to create living things from simple molecules with simulated lightning and cosmic rays have failed utterly.  And even with the full force of biochemical engineering, no lab has been able to create a self-reproducing set of chemicals that can function in a non-biological environment.  And it is not for lack of trying.  A further, basic problem goes under the arcane name “evolvability”.  We have known for 20 years that self-reproducing systems cannot necessarily evolve.  Even more stringent design features are required for a living system that is capable of evolving.  So, how did evolvability evolve?

Conclusion:  Life and consciousness are not epiphenomena built on a foundation of cold physical law.  Life and mind are woven into the fabric of reality at a deep level.  We seem to be seeing “intention” or goal-oriented collective behavior in living systems at the lowest levels, and perhaps in non-living things to a lesser extent.  

Paradoxically, the “scientific world-view” has come to be identified with 19th Century science.  The mainstream of scientiss will tell you with a straight face that the light of consciousness—the first and only thing you know for sure—doesn’t matter at all, and that it is some kind of illusion that arises from large-scale computation.  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

When the new science comes to be incorporated into our view of ourselves and our relation to nature, everything will change.

Where does space come from?

In 1935, Einstein published two papers, both with young protege Nathan Rosen, but on two unconnected ideas.  (The ideas were “unconnected” both in the sense that they appeared to have nothing to do with each other, and that they were both about the physics of unconnected times and places.)

In paper #1, he realized that his geometrical theory of gravity, called General Relativity, held the mathematical possibility of tunnels connecting different times and places via a space-time shortcut.  John Wheeler was later to call these wormholes, and a great deal of thought and study followed in ensuing decades, speculating about whether our universe actually includes such connections, and whether they might be manufactured deliberately to facilitate interstellar travel.

In paper #2, he skewered the whole nascent field of quantum mechanics by highlighting an absurd consequence of quantum entanglement.  What you do to one particle has a provable effect on other particles that once interacted with it, but are now far away.  If QM is correct about this, then it is a way that what you do here and now can have an effect on distant places, and possibly change what already happened at earlier times.

Seventy-eight years later, Juan Maldacena wrote an email to Leonard Susskind in which he proposed that these two disconnections where deeply connected, that they were not just weird but weird in the same way, and that the link between quantum entanglement and Wheeler wormholes had the potential to explain where time and 3-D space come from.

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Read more from K.C. Cole, writing in Quanta Magazine.

Matriarchy

Males have been in charge of the world for the last 10,000 years.  We’ve created some things that are really worthwhile: yoga, chocolate, the Apollo moon shots, streaming video.  In some  other areas, our performance has been more questionable: traffic jams, form 1040, nuclear weapons, Windows 10.  I say it’s time to give women a chance to run things.  Undoubtedly they’ll do things differently, have different triumphs, make different mistakes.  It seems only right that we give female hegemony a try—though in fairness, we should limit their tenure to 10,000 years.  

— Josh Mitteldorf

Conscious Dying

Cogito ergo sum’ has fostered cent’ries of confusion
To me it means I’m sentient, and awareness no illusion.
This hardly comforts me, or warrants immortality;
It’s ample reason, though, to spurn blind Science‘s decree.

I know I know not who I am; of this at least I‘m certain.
(As much as I would relish one small ‘Glance Behind the Curtain’.)
I probe within with introspection, study neuroscience.
(My nescience thus consoling, I at least express defiance.)

For acts of sweet rebellion, pray may God forgive my prying.
Let my gratitude be recompense for years of conscious dying.

— Josh Mitteldorf

From flickr.com: Under the Rainbow - Optimism {MID-211225}