Prayer in a Time of Transformation

In this time of unraveling and reweaving the human fabric,
May all passions of my heart draw me into collective truth.
Guide my acts in service to the diversity and unity of life,
Connect me with bonds of love, learning and cooperation;
And, to the extent it does not distract me from my calling,
Grant me a vision of the full tapestry in its effulgent glory.
JJM, 7/21/20
Lake of the Woods, CA

Time lapse plant movies

Michael Pollan, writing at New Yorker, shows us how plants have goals and behaviors that are calculated to achieve them. We don’t see it because we don’t have patience to sit and watch them long enough to appreciate their time scale.

Not only do they sense their environment without sense organs and process information without neural networks; they also have a sixth sense of what’s going on far from home.

In the above video pea plants reach for a support pole. They seem to know not only that the pole is there, just beyond their reach, but also that there’s a competitor vying for the same pole.

We must stop regarding plants as passive objects—the mute, immobile furniture of our world—and begin to treat them as protagonists in their own dramas, highly skilled in the ways of contending in nature —- Michael Pollan 

The Oldest Extant Art

Deep inside the limestone cavern are hundreds of highly animated wall paintings of bison, bear, ibex, lion, rhinoceros, hyena, wooly mammoth, and horse, “signed” by the red-ochre handprints of the artists. The darkly etched charcoal drawings were sketched in the cave’s smoothed chambers, their walls rounded and pocked from water’s eonic hollowing. In the space are also pudding-like towers of calcium drips, whose conical shapes record the geologic heaping of age. The images, now protected as a World Heritage Site, were done between thirty-thousand and thirty-three thousand years ago.

Thomas Larson at 3QD makes the case that the paintings were just one element of a multimedia environment used for entertainment or perhaps for ritual experiences.

Happy Birthday to PDQ’s Dad

It’s not easy to make people laugh with music. It’s not easy even to keep the listener’s interest. Peter Schickele knows this. I’d say that not since Rossini was there a composer whose central focus is to keep the listener entertained.

Of course, his own music has been overshadowed by his son, PDQ Bach.

What makes this funny? The easy laughs come from surprising shifts from classical counterpoint to boogy-woogy, or from string orchestra to pennywhistle. Another trick is to abuse the venerable practice of repetition until the listener wonders whether the needle is stuck on the old 33 lp. But the best of PDQ Bach’s humor is reserved for seasoned classical music buffs who recognize the far-flung quotations from the romantic repertoire that are prone to show up when least expected.

Charles Ives and Luciano Berio were previous masters of quotation from the classics, but their intent was not overtly humorous. What is the difference? And is there a clear line?

Much less well-known is the music that Schickele has published under his own name. I like to think that Schickele has learned a great deal from PDQ about how to hold keep the listener on his toes. Here is the first movement of his piano quintet, an action-packed minute and a half. (What is the counter-rhythm between piano and strings at the 30-second mark?)

Happy birthday, Peter PDQ Schickele-Bach, 86 years old today.

Collective intelligence, no neurons necessary

Slime mold occupies a funny in-between ground, not a single-celled organism nor a multi-celled organism. It’s a colony of single-cell amoebas that behaves in some way as a unified organism.

This week, an experiment came out of the Harvard laboratory of Niroshu Morugan. A slime mold colony on a petri dish senses its environment and makes a collective decision in which direction to move (by growing new cells).

There is some evidence about how the cells sense the environment, but none about how this information is communicated to the colony, or how the information is processed to support a decision. We haven’t a clue.

This experiment challenges our idea of what kinds of organisms can exhibit intelligent behavior.

<science blog="" article

<Science Blog article

When I can’t hear my soul’s whispers, she has to shout.

Obsessive passions rise unbidden in
My heart, distract me from the work I try
To do. And yet I don’t succumb or cry —
I struggle, though I know I cannot win.

My gratitude for life has lost its way
I only seek escape from what I feel.
It’s thus I’ve disconnected from the real —
I sense there’ll be a price to pay.

How did I come to be so out of touch?
The subtle intuitions I’ve ignored
And overridden with my keen left brain
Have spoken louder, begged and then implored,
Continually cranking up the gain
And all to let me know: I think too much.

— JJM, from the Poetry of Oneness

user uploaded image
Heylm Hylian

Young Albert’s PhD Thesis

1905 was the year in which 25-year-old Einstein wrote three very different physics papers in three diverse fields, each of which was easily a Nobel prize on its own. It turns out there was a fourth paper, just as brilliantly original — his doctoral dissertation.

There were at the time powerful abstract arguments for belief in atoms, but no one knew how big they were. How many hydrogen atoms are in one gram of hydrogen? The answer had been known for almost a hundred years as Avogadro’s number, but no one knew what the number was.

Here’s Einstein’s idea for calculating it. Adding sugar to water makes the water flow more slowly. Think “slow as molasses”. How slowly it flows can be measured in a number called viscosity. Lab scientists had a pretty good idea how many grams of sugar would produce how much viscosity.

For his dissertation, Einstein came up with a theory about how fluid flow would change if you added tiny beads to the fluid. (Today, we could manufacture uniform plastic beads, but I don’t think there was any equivalent experiment that could be done in 1905, so it was all a matter of theory.) He calculated the way the viscosity would change with the size and also the number of beads. By thinking of the dissolved sugar as Avogadro’s number of beads, and assigning a size for each bead based on the known volume of sugar divided by the same Avogadro’s number, Einstein was able to come up with an equation that he solved for Avogadro’s number.

Four years later, in 1909, the Millkin Oil Drop experiment resolved the question via a different route. The answer was substantially more accurate than Einstein’s, but Einstein’s calculation was in the right ballpark.

I just heard this story from Areeba Merriam’s account

Albert Einstein on Twitter: "Let's get a nice sketch of young Einstein  during this commercial break! #GeniusBoard #Genius… "

Sum, non cogito

Nothing could be more alien to the lived experience of meditation than the cogito ergo sum of Descartes.  “I think, therefore I am.”  This is the declaration of an alienated being.  In exile from his own spiritual depths, he is compelled to seek some comfort in a proof for his own existence(!) based on the observation that he “thinks”.   If his thought is necessary as a medium through which he arrives at the concept of his existence, then he is in fact only moving further away from his true being.  He is reducing himself to a concept.  He is making it impossible for himself to experience, directly and immediately, the mystery of his own being.  At the same time, 

[At the same time, by also reducing God to a concept, he makes it impossible for himself to have any intimation of the divine reality, which is inexpressible.] 

— Thomas Merton (New Seeds of Contemplation)

For the contemplative, there is no Cogito, no ergo, only SUM.  I am. Not in the sense of a futile assertion of our individuality, but in the humble realization of our mysterious being as beings in whom God dwells, with infinite sweetness and inalienable power.

Galaxy Song

originally by Monte Python

Just re-member that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving, revolving at 900 miles an hour.

It’s orbiting at 19 miles a second, so it’s reckoned, a Sun, that is the source of all our power.

The Sun, and you and me, and all the stars that you can see, are moving at a million miles a day

In the outer-spiral arm, at 40,000 miles an hour, of the Galaxy we call “The Milky Way“.

Our Galaxy itself contains a hundred-billion stars, it’s a hundred thousand light years side to side.

It bulges in the middle, 16,000 light years thick, but out by us, it’s just 3,000 light years wide.

We’re 30,000 light years from Galactic Central Point, we go round every 200 million years,

And our Galaxy is only one of millions of billions in the amazing and expanding universe!

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding in all of the directions it can whizz,

As fast as it can go, the speed of light, you know, 12 million miles a minute and that’s the fastest speed there is,

So remember when you’re feeling very small and insecure, how amazingly unlikely is your birth

And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space, ’cause we need some here on Earth!