Archive for March, 2008
I have a rather odd habit in that I like to sit and read, in the easy chair by the glass doors which look out into my back garden, just before sunset. The light is dimming, and it gets harder and harder to discern the page in the dwindling daylight, but there is much yet to see.
A movement catches my eye. I smile as a cottontail rabbit comes into view. She twitches her nose and munches on a few grasses (all right, I’ll admit it—weeds ).
My garden is very minimal: Just a few desert plants, lots of rocks and pavers, and one of the best views of the Santa Catalina mountains on offer. The back yard is much as it was when I moved here. I added a tortoise, a pagoda, and a Buddha image, all of concrete. To me, the unobstructed splendor of the mountains needs no other frame.
I feel fortunate I don’t have a dog, not because I don’t like them—I do—but because the rabbits wouldn’t come into the yard if I did. The bunnies squeeze themselves into and through the decorative drainage openings in the low brick wall surrounding the garden. Those openings are necessary because of the flash flooding we can get in the desert. The water rises quickly, and alarmingly, and needs some place to go.
The bunny feels safe here, walled off from predators, but still with several escape routes at her disposal. I see her friend or mate watching from the other side of the widely spaced iron-bar fence. I can see see right through the fence, but it keeps the coyotes and wildcats out. (Don’t ask about the snakes!)
What’s that jumping up and down at the top of the rise? I’ve not seen a roadrunner act like that before. Could she be making a nest? Or ferreting out some prey?
Now there’s a quail. I have mixed feelings about them. The tufted quail are among our most common birds here (the others being doves and roadrunners). The quail arise with the sun—and I do not. This would be fine if they’d keep quiet about it. They insist, however, on greeting the dawn with the most appalling sound; something like a cross between a “hoot” and a “caw”, at a pitch and volume destined to penetrate my dreams.
Soon, though, the first hatchlings of the season will appear. Quail have about 8-10 chicks each hatching, and although less than half will live to torment me as adults (the rest being snatched up as tasty lunches for roadrunners, owls, and hawks), when I see the line of tiny cherry-sized little fluff-balls-with-feet, who follow both their parents everywhere; whose two parents wait patiently and help them jump down from the bricks of my wall; I forgive them everything.
As the last light fades I spot a bright red cardinal preparing a late night snack. I can no longer see to write on this, my favorite day.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 11 so far )
It’s always busy “out there” during the Spring (or Vernal) Equinox (northern hemisphere), or Autumnal Equinox (southern hemisphere), but this year, 2008, sees a remarkable alliance of holidays and celestial events. The Equinox (which means “equal night”) takes place at 05:48 UT on March 20. The full moon (known as the “worm” or “crow” moon) is on March 21. The Equinox is used to calculate certain religious holidays, and many ancient artifacts are constructed so as to act as a calendar upon moon or sunrise on that day.
Here are just some of the holidays taking place March 20/21:
|March 20, 2008||Ta’anit Esther (Jewish); Maunday Thursday (Christian); Mawlid al-Nabi (Islamic); Birth of Mahavira (Jain); Spring Higan (Buddhist); ~Thunder Dance (Iroquis); Ostara (Pagan); Mabon (Pagan); ~Ibu Afo Festival (Yoruba); Spring or Atumnal Equinox (Pantheism).|
|March 21, 2008||
Purim (Jewish); Frawardin 1 (Zoroastrian); Nawruz (Zoroastrian); Good Friday (Christian); Festival of Naw-Ruz (Baha’i); Nineteen-Day Fast,1st of Baha (Baha’i); ~Panguni Uttiram (Hindu); ~Caitra Purnima (Hindu); Hanuman Jayanti (Hindu); Magha Puja (Buddhist); ~Iduna and Summer Finding (Pagan).
~ means that the dates are variable.
Whether we say “NowRuz Pirooz” نوروز (Happy/Prosperous Persian New Year) or “Purim Sameah” פורים שמח-(Jewish celebration of the good deeds of Queen Esther), or participate in any number of festivities, we can all look to these days as times of renewal. Happy holidays to all!
I posted just a few days ago about how Science Fiction changed my life. Most of us knew about Arthur C. Clarke’s writing career, his collaboration with Stanley Kubrik on the amazing film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and how several novels came out of that experience; that he’d lived in Sri Lanka for many decades, and was disabled for much of his long, 90 year life.
I like to remember him by his three wishes for his recent 90th birthday. You may watch his birthday greeting to us here.
Sir Arthur departed this dimension on Tuesday of this week. He was a huge literary and scientific presence. He gave me and many others much delight. I sincerely hope his three wishes come true.
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I love my blog, really I do. It doesn’t always love me, but that’s another story. Lately, though, there’s something in the air. Or is it the water? I haven’t felt able to post as much as usual, and that “virus” has caught other blogs as well. I’ve seen a real trend towards disgruntlement around the blogosphere. For me, part of it is I’ve taken on another job—in addition to the ones I already have—but I’m not going to say: “I don’t have as much time”… After all, we have all the time there is! 168 hours a week! One simply must prioritize how to spend those hours. High on my list are sleeping, reading, and blogging…..and, oh yeah, working. I also participate in musical and volunteer activities. I devote a number of hours per week to eating, one of my favorite things. And on. And on…
So, because I’ve taken on the new job, I’ve felt I need to a) re-vamp my priority list; and b) organize all the detritus belonging to my various activities so I can easily and instantly access each. I obtained one of those coated metal organizer cubey thingys:
I ended up with seven (!) cubes I assembled into a four-on the bottom; three on top configuration. They fit nicely against a wall of my closet. Have you ever put these cubes together? It took me two and one half hours. For all our sakes, I will not report the running dialogue I had with the cube parts.
In any event, I now have a whole cube labeled “Blog/Web”. I’m so excited. There’s a notepad and pen in there. When I have an idea for a post, I can jot it down; or if there’s a book or magazine I want to blog about, I can just toss it in the cube! And it keeps the Internet stuff away from all the other projects. My life is a series of projects, as I don’t have a “real” job.
Time will tell if this helps. It’s certainly better than keeping everything in floppy shopping bags, and not being able to see what’s inside. Wish me luck!
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I don’t want someone to kill me, and I don’t want anyone to take my stuff. Almost all law, as I see it, is predicated upon those two premises. The first, regarding murder, can be extended to physical harm, or psychological harm as well. The second causes all sorts of interpretations, many of which stem from defining “What is my stuff?, and Who agrees with me about what my stuff is?”
Most other laws are really agreements we make in order to move about and interact more pleasantly. A good example of these are stop lights and signs, and highway speed limits. Even these, though, are explicit in what we can’t do, rather than what we can. Street lights do tell us when we can “go” as well as when we must “stop”, but highway speed is “limited”. And we push at those limits, don’t we? I’ve even heard people say: Well, the speed limit is 45, so I drive 50.” Hungh? That is not a logical statement. In my area, penalties increase for going more than 10 miles above the speed limit. Why? Either it is a limit, or it’s not. Ticket me for going 46, and I’ll not argue.
So we come to the subject of penalties. Penalties go into effect if we breach the agreements we’ve made, or those made on our “behalf” by government officials. The concept of penalty or punishment is alien to me. I don’t believe punishment is either god-given or necessary, but something we humans invented to control each other. Punishment is only meted out against a “weaker” entity–weaker either by physical strength, or because of psychological coercion. If we each mind our own business, we needn’t worry about what the “other guy” is doing. I sound a bit Libertarian, here, but I don’t just harbor this attitude from a logical or philosophical standpoint, but also a spiritual one. If I “mind my own store”, as it were, I will just naturally form around me circumstances and personnel that support my notion of a good and joyful life. This never, for me, would be enhanced by trying to convince someone of my point of view. I won’t say I never do this (try to convince someone, I mean) —sometimes it seems I can hardly help myself. But, when I do, I generally don’t feel better for it, and even if I’ve talked someone around, I don’t, ultimately, take much pleasure in that. People must be free to embrace their own guidance.
Where does that leave us with laws? I find I (technically) “obey” most of them, but that is mainly because to act in other ways–to steal from you, for instance–does not enhance my well being, and is not a way I’d want to be treated myself. That’s the ticket, really: It comes back to the golden rule. It is only fear that makes us believe that we are less powerful and valued than we truly are, and therefore must concern ourselves with creating laws to get others to do what we wish. If we’re able to just do what we wish for ourselves, and spend time every day reflecting upon how blessed we really are, then perhaps a law will be passed outlawing “laws”.
A lingering voice says: “But, but, but, other people don’t do that”. I know, voice. What I also know is that as long as I concern myself with what others “might” do to me, I’ll never be free. I choose freedom over law. Amen.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 6 so far )
Much has been written about the effect the television show Star Trek has had on popular culture, and of the gadgets invented for the show 40 years ago which are now commonplace, or soon will be. The show continues to influence my view of culture, science, and philosophy on a daily basis. I own the books The Physics of Star Trek; The Metaphysics of Star Trek; Boldly Live as You’ve Never Lived Before; and I Am Not Spock. [major geek alert here!] This post however, is about science fiction novels and how and why they’ve influenced my world view.
I started reading Sci-Fi at an early age. My very first adventure was a book called You Will Go to The Moon (Freeman). When I was a child my school library did not have the most up-to-date selection. This book was published in 1959, a full ten years before NASA astronauts did go to the moon. It was created at a time when scholars analyzed language and chose words comprehensible to a 6-year-old for the “I can read it all by myself” series of books. I think I was about that age when I first read it. It describes very vividly in pictures and words what a trip to the moon would be like for an average person. I identified with the little boy in the book, and I really wanted to go! The book’s unusual second person directive style made a huge impact as well. There was no question in the authors’ minds: “You WILL go to the moon!” I hadn’t heard of NASA or cosmonauts or astronauts yet, and the book made it seem like this sort of space travel was just around the corner. <Sigh>. As I got older, some of my family wished I would go to the moon, and, preferably, stay there.
I still want to go! In looking up the book for this post, I discovered that a user named ApeLad has posted the entire book on Flickr! This is exciting because it’s long been out of print. You can view the 38 pages as a slide show, and since it’s mostly pictures it’s a fast read.
After this, and convinced I’d be going to the moon “any day now”, I became an avid space fan, and read all the children’s books possible. Now that I’m much older, I still hold out a small hope of going to the moon, but humankind hasn’t been there for a long, long time. Instead, I’ve turned my attention to adult science fiction. I find I still love the gadgets and technical developments, but what I most enjoy are the sociological imaginings many Sci-Fi authors propose for their alternate civilizations.
In this category I would include almost all the works of Ursula K. Le Guin, particularly The Left Hand of Darkness, The Lathe of Heaven, The Word for World is Forest and The Hainish Trilogy among others. They’ve all had a profound effect on my world view, but it proved impossible to pick a favorite among them, so I’m deferring to three other authors. Here is a list of my all-time favorite Science Fiction novels. They generally have a large helping of science and gadgetry, and even more of social commentary, and, for good measure, a pinch of metaphysics thrown in. I’d thought of including such classics as Stranger in a Strange Land (that darling of the hippie generation) and Childhood’s End (the devil in new clothes), both of which I found thought provoking commentary on society, but they didn’t change me. These did:
#5: — Memoirs of an Invisible Man by H.F. Saint~~~This is the only book this author ever wrote. It’s more of a fantasy / adventure / thriller, really, than a Sci-Fi story, but I still feel it belongs on this list as it draws a richly detailed alternate reality. The science comes in the form of the event that turns the hero, Nick, invisible, and I found the descriptions plausible and fascinating. There is more science involved in discussion about how to “treat” the invisible man. Outside of this one element, though—the fact that Nick has become completely invisible and must use his own resources to exist in a world that wants to capture and control him—the setting and situations are contemporary, as they were 20 years ago. The author obviously knew New York City very well, and the book is partially a running love affair with the city. The descriptions of the “invisible life” are so richly detailed that reader believes them, and I was drawn into Nick’s world utterly. It’s the mark of a good novel, for me, when I both admire, and sometimes get a little annoyed with a character’s choices, and I imagine how I would handle a situation differently. It caused me to expand my view of how to define reality as I read the intriguing ways Nick copes with a totally alien yet very familiar life.
#4: — The Age of the Pussyfoot by Frederick Pohl~~~A novel about how life would be different if death were reversible. The social exploration is of interest here, and the author explores relationships from a unique perspective. What got to me in this book—and I can tell I’m intrigued by a novel if I read it several times—is the technology. Written nearly forty years ago, Pussyfoot examines a reality where everyone carries around a device called a joymaker (read iPhone?) by which s/he is continually connected to the city’s “central computing facility” (the Internet?). Through this device one can apply for a job, pay ones rent, order dinner, make new friends, and receive personalized drugs to alter ones mood. I borrowed this book from the library at a young age, and of course wanted my own joymaker. I don’t have an iPhone yet, but…
#3: — The Lantern of God by John Dalmas~~~Another thought provoking social commentary. After a spaceship crashes on an uninhabited planet, the crew unloads their cargo, as it’s too heavy to be transported on the now damaged ship. The “humans” go on to colonize another continent, while the cargo turns out to be sentient “pleasure droids” (don’t get me started on the meaning of those) . The settlements on both colonies thrive, and thousands of years later, the evolved “human” society decides to pay a visit to the evolved “droids”. It does not go as planned. The great themes in this novel are more social than sci-fi. We get to explore religion from a very different perspective than is usual in these kinds of books. The two societies have come to value different priorities and abilities. Though a minor sub-plot, I found one of the more compelling storylines was one character’s relationship with a sentient being who happened to live in the sea. The reason there had been no conversation between the two species before? No one had bothered to learn the sea creature’s language. The novel expanded my view of what is spiritually and mentally possible.
#2: — Gateway by Frederick Pohl~~~Gateway has it all: some “hard” sci-fi, such as advanced technology, travel to other planets and systems, reverse engineering, etc. The heart of the book, though, is a relationship between two prospectors, and between one of the prospectors and his computer-generated psychiatrist. It made me wonder how I and our society would feel and act if we came upon leftover machinery from a culture who’d abandoned their base. Our comfortable earth community would be forever changed. This is the first book in a trilogy, and I’d recommend the other two, but not the more recent “conclusion”.
#1: — The Reality Matrix by John Dalmas~~~Well, here’s the one this post is really about. Part physics, part Taoism, computer modeling, and game theory, the book is an alternate view of reality downloaded directly into author John Dalmas’ mind. He’s known for his series such as The Regiment and Farside. This book is a stand-alone cosmology of mind shattering proportions. It’s now back in print after a lag of some ten years. Get it! Get it! The novel speaks of a time when society is troubled; the economy is unpredictable, and people suddenly start to act crazy and shoot other people for no reason. Sound familiar? The problem seems to be a glitch in the “reality generator”. The quest to hunt down the problem and fix it before reality as we know it goes “critical” is the heart of the book. The concept of a reality generator, which can be reset if need be so reality can start over again, just blew my mind. The characters who get involved in the adventure—and yes, the clock is ticking—are a memorable lot, each bringing her/his life skills and strengths to the game. Visits to the “other side of reality” made me question everything I thought I knew about physical experience. Yes, this is “just” a novel, but if you read it you may find it’s one which becomes something so much more.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 17 so far )
There is much discussion about whether a faith-based or science based view of reality is correct. While many of us embrace some combination of the two, there are others who take a mainly empirical or mainly religious view of life. My position is that there are two basic ways of looking at reality, but not the faith vs. science ones we hear about most.
The two are: (a) We can’t know something to be true or not true. Or, (b) we can know, either by evidence or by faith. The Scientific Method and Religious Belief both share characteristics of the second, namely, that we can know something to be true.
Faith-based knowledge contends that a Supreme Being(s) or God, by grace, can allow us to know what is true. Our job is to “believe when next we doubt”. Scientific, or empirically based knowledge, on the other hand, is gained by what can be observed or experienced through the five senses, or with equipment as extensions of eyes, ears or noses. Devices have enabled humans to observe phenomena which had been hitherto considered in the realm of the unseen, or paranormal. For instance when scientists began to use microscopes and developed germ theory, infectious diseases which had been considered as consequences of a curse or spontaneous generation were then found to have a sound scientific cause.
I will put it to you that there is no cause—of anything—other than our own conscious manipulation of time, space and matter in order to explore creation and expand our understanding. We each feed knowledge into the whole. We are none of us as individual as we like to assume, but we’re extremely valuable as individuals to the whole because of the unique perspective and balance we bring to the entirety. I take this position using the tools of observation, meditation, reading and listening. I reserve the right to change my mind, and I wouldn’t want to impose my belief system on anyone else. In fact, I believe that “belief systems” themselves are conscious creations, and have no more intrinsic validity then, say a sculpture. The art I produce may represent a way of being or seeing that I currently embrace. It may evoke strong emotions or feelings of “oneness” in others, but, chemical analysis of the piece would show only the properties of clay.
So there are two camps: “It Can be Known” or “It Cannot be Known“. Position #2 might be considered “Agnostic”. I’m comfortable with that unless it’s used exclusively as a religious term. Agnostic comes from the Greek word agnosis, which means “not knowing”. I am agnostic as well regarding science, or history, or even the arts. I believe in the wonder of scientific discovery but I also engage in spiritual practices. Both of these are valuable to me because they allow me to explore my reality. I follow scientific and spiritual developments “for their own sake”, as it were. In this I have some good company. This discussion about Emanationism references Theosophy, Sufism, Buddhism, and such fantasy adventures as Dungeons and Dragons and Lord of the Rings. With Middle Earth containing philosophy to incorporate into a worldview, life is good!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 11 so far )