Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

(Satan Sowing Tares–Félicien Joseph Victor Rops 1833-1898)

Sometimes I look at other people and think, it must be easier for them than it is for me, they’re always so happy. I’m really picky. I only like certain things, at certain times, in certain colors, and they have to smell good. When things go off and get a different color, or maybe they were softer yesterday, or maybe they weren’t smart enough to dazzle me, or they biffed whatever fine point of perfection I was looking for at that moment, I get disappointed. Then I act like a fool. I throw little fits that are blanketed in clouds of judgement and disappointment and blame. Because as long as it is somebody else’s fault, I don’t have to change.

I recently attended a life changing conference with Marianne Williamson, called Enchanted Love. I got really clear on what I need to do to change my life with my partner. Take 100% responsibility for my experiences and my perceptions, stop pointing fingers, stop being a crackpot. Then I came home from the conference and I was great for about 48 hours…and then I threw a doozy of a blame fest. I won’t get into the details, but it wasn’t pretty…”poor little me,” mixed up with “you’re so mean,” mixed up with “why do I bother?” I took a late night drive and relaxed for a few hours on the couch, letting how much un-fun I was having settle in.

We have repeatedly emphasized that the barrier of grievances is easily passed, and cannot stand between you and your salvation. The reason is very simple. Do you really want to be in hell? Do you really want to weep and suffer and die? (A Course in Miracles–lesson 73)

Being mean is not fun. Being angry and defensive isn’t either. I give up all three, starting yesterday. Satan, Get Thee Behind Me. Thank you God.

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(mid-sagittal brain fibers that connect the two hemispheres through the corpus callosum, photographed by Thomas Schultz–2006)

In my last post, which you can read here, I noted that it is important for me to take some quiet moments to listen to what my emotional body is telling me. If I’m able to do that I can make proactive choices about things that I’m feeling yucky about and make them better, thusly living a happier and more authentic life. Here’s an example:

I have a weird and possibly obsessive hatred of dry things touching other dry things. As a school teacher, this is an unfortunate hatred, because chalk and chalk boards are both very, very dry. Very dry. I’ve managed to survive by using this particular type of “dust free” chalk that comes in a green box. It’s denser than most chalk. I tell myself that it’s denser because it has more water in it, which allows me to use it without all of my teeth falling out. But that’s just an aside. The real story/pain comes in wiping the chalk off the board. All that bone dry power wafting into the air, dusty eraser fibers scratching along the slated board…I feel faint just thinking about it.  I try to have the students do it most of the time (even then sometimes I have to stand at the back of the room and not watch) and in the winter time, when it’s raining outside, I can handle it. But in August, hot and dry, sun burning down outside the window…oops! My bicuspid fell out! Dang.

Anyway, I’ve been cleaning my room in preparation for the first day. The boards have been on my list for days. I kept avoiding them, ignoring them, doing other jobs that don’t need to be done, without ever noticing or questioning why. Yesterday I stopped myself and said, Self, why are you avoiding the chalkboards? Then I answered Because the dryness is too much. If I have to, I will, but only with hatred in my heart. So then I asked myself, How can I make the job better for you/me? and then I answered Go and buy a giant sponge and fill up a bucket of water and use the giant sponge and the wet water on the dry, dry board.

So then that’s what I did. Well, actually I found a giant sponge and used that instead of buying one, but it came to the same end. The boards are clean and ready and I enjoyed the task.

I could have ignored myself. I could have powered through and wiped the boards with the dusty eraser and rubbed them black with the cloth that I keep for the job. But I would have had hatred in my heart, and now all I have is love. Love, moistened with the 98% water that’s in my body.

The point of this little story is to illuminate the dual nature of individual humans. How can there be a part of me that I ignore unless I have parts to me? How can I talk to myself and answer myself unless there are multiple sides to my nature? There are loads and loads of informative websites and books and research projects that have proven that the left and right hemispheres of the brain serve different functions. The left brain hemisphere controls literal language (grammar and vocabulary) while the right brain hemisphere controls the understanding of non-literal language (reading between the lines, intonation, sarcasm, contextual meanings). The left brain deals in facts–decoding the rational, linear, and objective–while the right brain deals in intuition–focusing on patterns, connections between experiences and things, and with a subjective understanding of the world. In other words, the right brain is all about feelings and the left brain is all about facts. The two hemispheres are connected by a band of nerve fibers called the corpus callosum, which allows the two sides to communicate with each other.

While we use both sides of our brain constantly throughout the day, most people tend to show a preference for one type of thinking over the other. (Here’s a fun test to see what your brain preference is.) Don’t worry, my point is still coming. Most people are left brain dominant, meaning that most people will believe facts coming from an external authority above their own feelings and intuitions, even when the facts are at odds with their own experiences. Over time, we begin to lose touch with our own feelings, choosing instead to focus on what is happening outside our actual experience. This leads to, at best, a superficial and un-authentic  life littered with depression and prescription drugs. At worst, it leads to illness and violence. Feelings that are pushed aside and ignored do not go away, they find alternate paths to the surface.

Fortunately, with a little conscious action, I can cut through that big bossy mouthed left hemisphere that always wants the facts. I can kneel down and put my ear on the track of that gentle, soft spoken feely, feely right hemisphere and give a good listen. It’s not that hard, once I remember to do it, and wow, I’m so much happier (and whole-er and more balanced) when I do.

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(Le Pigeon aux Petits Pois-Picasso, 1911)

Raise your hand if you like cubism, please! I used to not like it. The first time I saw some cubism, I was just bored. But then again, I was 15 and I felt bored with everything. You could have shown me a mathematical equation for a process that eliminated the need for petroleum products, cured cancer and directed the way to all the lost favorite socks in the world (with the only by-product of bars of warm dark chocolate), and I would have shrugged and gave you a friendlyish half-smile, all the while dying slowly inside of soul crushing boredom.

The next time I saw a cubist painting, it made me feel icky, like I was looking at a picture of the inside of an ant colony, eggs and all. Ew. At that time I was in college looking at slides in an art appreciation class. (Truthfully, at that time the only art that I really appreciated was my own.) It was so very busy and not really OF anything. Just, thingies and stuff, all over the place. Ew.

Then somebody told me that Picasso had admitted to somebody else that he had sold his soul to the devil. That seemed interesting to me, but not enough to really look at his artwork. I might have thought about looking at his artwork a time or two, but wasn’t really motivated enough to get up and do it. Probably because of the ant colony thing.

It wasn’t until recently that I actually started to understand what the heck the big idea was about cubism. I was reading a book called Surfing Through Hyperspace: Understanding Universes in Six Easy Lessons by Clifford Pickover when I began to understand. A quote from within said volume:

Einstein’s theory of general relativity describes space and time as a unified 4-D continuum called ‘spacetime.’ Consider yourself as having three spatial dimensions-height, width, and breadth. You also have the dimension of duration-how long you last. Modern physics views time as an extra dimension; thus, we live in a universe having (at least) three spatial dimensions and one additional dimension of time. Stop and consider some mystical implications of spacetime. Can something exist outside of spacetime? For example, Thomas Aquinas believed God to be outside of spacetime and thus capable of seeing all of the universe’s objects, past and future, in one blinding instant. An observer existing outside of time, in a region called ‘hypertime,’ can see the past and future all at once (pgs. 18-19).

This is a neat idea, but the inspiring cubism part didn’t come until 32 pages later…

When you look at a 2-D painting on a wall, you step back in the third dimension and can see the boundary of the painting (usually rectangularly shaped) as well as every point in the painting. This means that you can see the entire painting from one viewpoint. If you wish to see a 3-D artwork from one viewpoint, you need to step back in the fourth dimension. Assuming your eyes could grasp such a thing, you would theoretically see every point on the 3-D artwork, and in the 3-D artwork, without moving your viewpoint. This type of “omniscient” seeing and X-ray vision was known to Cubist painters such as Duchamp and Picasso. For this reason, Cubists sometimes showed multiple views of an object in the same painting. Present day sculptors such as Arthur Silverman, often place six copies of the same 3-D object, on separate bases, in six orientations. People viewing the six disjoint sculptures often do not realize that they are all the same object. Mathematics professor Nat Friedman (State University of New York at Albany) refers to this theoretical seeing in hyperspace as “hyperseeing” and points out in his writings that in hyperspace one can hypersee a 3-D object completely from one viewpoint.

Wow. Now that is far out. Maybe he sold his soul to the devil in order to do it, but Picasso figured out a way to paint so that the viewer can see multiple sides (points of view) all at the same time and from the same place. That is cool. Not icky or boring in the least! I wonder what Einstein would say about all this…wait! What’s that you say? Einstein came up with the theory of relativity in the same decade as Picasso started painting as if he lived on a beam of light?

(Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler-Picasso 1910)

Guess I’ll have to make an Einstein/Picasso posting soon…

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(Roger-Noël-François de La Fresnaye)

I was reading a blog posting this afternoon when I came across this quote:

The greatest threat to science and scientific progress is not religion, ignorance, or superstition, it is the mistaking of a model or paradigm for Reality, or “laws of Nature.” It is the creation of a type of religious fundamentalism around a paradigm – a kind of black and white, authoritarian absolutism about the model.

I couldn’t find the author of the quote, so I googled it. It belongs to Richard Milton, author of a book entitled Alternative Science: Challenging the Myths of the Scientific Establishment. There is a “read inside” option on the Amazon page for this book, and so I did. In the introduction to the book (which is pretty much all I could read for free) I found some very interesting information.

After mentioning a few scientists who were demoted or dismissed because their work showed “repeatable and empirical evidence” of such things as consciousness affecting electric instruments, positive effects of homeopathy, and the discovery of cold fusion (which is cheap and isn’t supposed to work–despite the fact that 92 universities and corporations have recreated cold fusion results), Milton goes on to say that:

The scientific fundamentalism of which these are disturbing signs is found today not merely in provincial pockets of conservatism, but at the very top of the mainstream management of science, on both sides of the Atlantic. In times such as these, some academics appoint themselves vigilantes to guard the gates of science against troublemakers with new ideas and new discoveries.

This all reminds me of the latest chapter I read in The Incarnation of Ahriman by Rudolf Steiner. I go back and forth on some of the things that Steiner said, but , I’ve gotta say, this particular chapter really vibed with me. He basically said that the ancient people knew inherently that spirituality was a part of the world around them. They felt themselves in the stars at night. They believed that the forces that push the water down the river were also inside of them. They knew that if they prayed, the energy from their thoughts would reach the gods of the rain and these gods would bless them. Our newer, more evolved sensibilities have put the kibosh on this type of tomfoolery. We believe that for something to be accepted, it needs to be evidenced in repeatable scientific forms. None of this “it just feels right” nonsense for us…

(This is a bit ironic because we often trust scientists to tell us what our reality is, because we can’t always experience it ourselves. When I teach my middle school class about some historical scientific beliefs, such as “the world is flat” and we all giggle and yammer about how silly that is. The funny part is that I have never experienced first hand the roundness of the Earth. If some highfalutin scientist came on the news and said that they have just proven in Laboratory LMNOP that the Earth is actually shaped like a stiletto high heel, experientially speaking, I would have no evidence to disprove her…We trust scientists to shape our world view for us, because we don’t have rocket ships or billion dollar labs.)

Steiner goes on to say this:

Today, gazing up from earth to the star-world, it appears filled with fixed stars, suns, planets, comets, and so on. But with what means do modern human beings examine all that looks down on them out of cosmic space? They examine it with mathematics, with the science of mechanics. What lies around the earth is robbed of spirit, robbed of soul, even of life. It is a great mechanism. What the ideas of Galileo and Copernicus have brought to mankind is grand and mighty, but not an absolute truth, by no means and absolute truth. It is one aspect of the universe, one particular perspective. For modern education we need these illusions of a mathematical nature about the universe, we must acquire them, but we must know that they are illusions. (emphasis added by me)

It just feels right.


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Aristotle had done ancient and medieval astronomers a considerable service by drawing a line between physics and the mathematical sciences, including astronomy, in a way that could be interpreted to mean that astronomers need not search for Aristotelian “causes” for celestial motions. By Ptolemy’s day, it had become routine to invent devices such as the epicycle and equant that yielded reliable predictions, without any need to explain what might cause the planets to move in the manner prescribed by those devices. In fact, to declare that Ptolemy either did or did not think the planets literally move in the way these mechanisms had them moving would be to misunderstand him. In the absence of any remote chance of conclusive direct evidence one way or the other, there was much to be said for not belaboring that question–maybe for not even realizing the possibility of such a question. A man who worried about whether his mathematical system represented literal reality was an exception. This was not an intellectual situation confined to the ancients. A similar mind-set exists today at the leading edge of theoretical physics. (Kitty Ferguson, Tycho and Kepler)

Ptolemy couldn’t get his geocentric model to work right with his observations of the skies. Why did some planets appear to move backwards sometimes? Why do planets change their speeds? He scratched his head and went to work fudging the equations to make it work, because it simply had to work. There wasn’t any other viable option (nevermind that pesky Aristarchus…crazy sun centered fool!).

But Kepler knew better. Kepler was a Copernican. He knew that the earth was just another planet warlbling her way along some invisible path around the sun. What Kepler meant to figure out was how to work the math that really and truly described what was happening in the sky, not just fudged numbers.

Was Kepler a crazy maniacal bulldog who hated Brahe’s fame/weath/success and ultimately poisoned Brahe with mercury in order to steal his observations? Or was Kepler a mild mannered–if perhaps slightly abrasive–fellow, who waited patiently for old Brahe to decide to hand over the observations, coincidentally dying a few short days later? I’m afraid we shall never know. What we do know is that Kepler obsessed and guessed and checked  and took long walks and stayed up all night and made tables and pictures and wrote chapters and ignored his wife for years and years, whittling away at his theories, before finally solving Ptolemy’s problem of planets that go backward and change speeds. (I won’t try to rehash all that math gnashing for you. If you’re interested, there’s a great math gnash rehash here). I’ll just give you the short skinny:

Kepler ultimately discovered that planets travel in ellipses rather than in circles. They speed up when they are closer to the sun, because of the sun’s gravitational pull. Because the planets don’t travel at the same speeds, some planets may “lap” each other, so to speak, which causes Ptolemy’s problem of planets that appear to be moving backwards.

(NASA SP-4212)

That may sound rather anticlimactic but please rest assured this seemingly simple deduction was perfectly outrageous in the early 1600’s (even Copernicus had his planets traveling in perfect little o’s). Kepler’s discovery reformed all of astronomy, eventually leading to the formation of the laws of planetary motion. These laws, along with Newton’s mathematical theories, gave rise to a new generation of modern astronomy and physics.

From the time Kepler first began working with Tycho’s data at Benatky, he chose to let the tight constraints of mathematical/geometrical logic and precise observations be his primary guides and to give them, for a while, precedence over the [ancient Greek] ideas of symmetry and harmony. Kepler was setting a precedence still followed in science, where symmetry, harmony and logical beauty are not the most important criteria for judging whether a theory is correct. (Kitty Ferguson, Tycho and Kepler)

ps. Kepler really was the Imperial Mathematician for Rudolph II. One of his jobs was to do astrological readings for the Royalty.

pps. His mom was arrested and taken to jail when she was 74 years old, accused of being a witch by some meddling neighbors. Kepler and his lawyer wrote up a 126 page legal brief to try and get her acquitted, but it was his mother’s own verbal defense in the presence of a bailiff and a torturer which ultimately saved her. The neighbors were charged 10 florins (about a dollar and a half) for the false report.

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The last two astronomers I’m going to expound upon have a book written about them entitled Tycho and Kepler: The Unlikely Partnership that Forever Changed our Understanding of the Heavens. It’s written by a woman named Kitty Ferguson. (I love that name…Kitty Ferguson…what a terrific marriage of whimsy and pragmatism!) Usually I find historical non-fiction books a bit dry, but this one was rather a good read. I think it might be the first book of it’s type that I read all the way through and mostly in order. Usually I get bored and skip around a lot, which sometimes leads to eventual completion and other times to confusion and abandonment.

Anyway.  Tycho (pronounced like Tee-ko or more accurately Tÿcho, which was a Latinized version of his given name Tyge) Brahe and Johannes Kepler were unlikely candidates for “The Partnership that Forever Changed the Way We View the Heavens.” Here’s a little breakdown of what I’ve learned from Kitty Ferguson (I’ll do Tycho first, he was older):

Tycho Brahe was born in Denmark in 1546, into a family of great wealth. When he was two years old, his aunt and uncle (his father’s brother) kidnapped him from his parent’s castle and took him to their own castle a few hours away. Apparently his parents didn’t mind so very much that he was stolen from them. His father Otte did threaten to murder his brother if Tycho wasn’t returned, but they never made any attempt to retrieve him. This may have had to do with the fact that Otte’s wife Beate gave birth to eleven children and Jørgen and Inger, the aunt and uncle, had none, save young Tycho.

The kidnapping turned out to be a boon for Tycho, because his aunt Inger’s family were scholors, while the Brahe’s were militiamen. Otte felt that there was no need to study Latin, while Inger’s family made certain that Tycho had the best education available at the time. (One of Inger’s closest friends was Princess Anne of Denmark, one of the few recorded female alchemists.) Tycho grew up to be very suave and confident as he mingled with royalty. He understood etiquette and custom to a fine, fine point. His style and flair at kingly court was matched only by his exacting methodology and mathematical genius. Jørgen wanted Tycho to become a lawyer but Tycho wanted only to study the stars, which he did secretly, unbeknownst to the “preceptor” (sort of like a mild spy/nanny) that Jørgen hired to attend University of Copenhagen with fifteen-year-old Tycho.

Eventually Jørgen died and Tycho was able to study the skies out of the closet, so to speak. (He was still hampered by the fact that noblemen were not supposed to lower themselves to such petty careers as scientists, but he was able to find ways to buck that system as he grew older more savvy to the politics of the day.) Shortly after his foster father’s death, Tycho had an argument with a cousin over which man was the better mathematician. The quarrel came to blows and a portion of Tycho’s nose was severed. It took him a full season to heal from the wound, but in this time his lifelong interest in medicinal alchemy was set. Tycho had a two new noses sculpted from metal–one of lightweight copper for everyday use, and another of gold and silver mixed together (fleshtone) for special occasions. He attached the nose to his face with special adhesive salve.

Tycho eventually became the premier astronomer in Europe during a time of great observation and theory making. Tycho rejected Copernicus’ heliocentric theory, although he knew things weren’t so simple as Ptolemy made them out to be. Tycho tried to have his cake and eat it too, coming up with the geo-heliocentric model: the Moon and the Sun revolve around the Earth, everything else revolves around the Sun.

Not surprisingly, it was Tycho’s astronomical observations and the instruments he invented and built to make them (along with his political schmoozing) and not fabulous attempt at a new cosmological theory that made him famous. Tycho built three huge observatories in his life, Uraniborg and Stjerneborg on the island of Hven in Denmark and another outside Prague later in his life. He spent forty years attempting to make the world’s most accurate empirical measurements of the stars, planets, and comets.

Interesting Brahe-ian tidbits:

Wikipedia says that Tycho kept a clairvoyant dwarf and a court jester at his lavish observatory on the Danish island Hven. He also had a beloved tame moose-like animal, which got into the beer hold one evening, became intoxicated and died falling down the stairs of the castle. This marked the beginning of a very sad time in Tycho’s life.

Tycho was incredibly secretive of his observational records, preferring to keep them to himself and a very close assistants, rather than publish them. He was fearful that other would-be astronomers would steal his ideas, which they often ended up doing anyway.

Tycho Brahe published several books (some from his personal printing press at Hven) despite the fact that noblemen weren’t supposed to stoop to such lowly scholarly activities.

Tycho tutored a young, upstart Protestant mathematician named Johannes Kepler who was fleeing a spirituality torn Germany. Tycho was suspicious that Kepler was a spy for many, many months and refused to show Kepler his life’s work of observations until a few days prior to his death.

Tycho died of either a.) a burst bladder brought on by the fact that he wouldn’t get up to urinate during a royal dinner (it wasn’t polite) or b.) he was poisoned with mercury by an unknown murderer.

More on Johannes Kepler next time around…

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Last night I looked at M13, M57, Jupiter and his four Galilean moons, the Swan Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy, and Comet Hartley, all through a majorly big telescope (24 inch Cassegrain) at Pine Mountain Observatory. The inside of the telescope looked like this (although this is actually the inside of the 32 inch experimental scope):

While I really enjoyed seeing all the space phenomena, the Jupiter and the Galilean moons was the real show stealer. It looked a lot like this, only we were able to see four moons:

So, the above image is what one can see with a 24 inch aperture telescope hooked up to a computer with an electric motor tracking device. This telescope magnifies an object more than 200 times. However, the first time that anyone saw Jupiter and these moons, he was looking through a .5 inch aperture telescope that magnified an object 15-20 times. It was wintertime in 1610 and Galileo had had a terrific idea on how to use the newly invented “Dutch perspective glass” (which appears to have mostly been used during the daytime hours).

On January 7th, Galileo made the first observations of Jupiter and the moons that surrounded it. At first he thought the moons were small stars, but as he observed their movement over the next several days, he realized that the “stars” were in orbit around Jupiter. Now to our modern ears this may not seem very shocking, but up until this point in history (and well past it too, unfortunately for Galileo) folks adhered to Aristotelean/Ptolemaic Cosmology, which states that everything orbits around the Earth. Galileo also observed the phases of Venus, which are only possible if Venus is orbiting the sun and not the Earth. Ptolemy’s model was proven untenable and anybody with one of them newfangled perspective scopes could see it. The Church’s most serious bout of scientist theory whack-a-mole had begun.

Galileo went to the Catholic Church to ask permission to write about his discoveries. While the Inquisition did not refuse Galileo’s request, they did require Galileo to adhere to a few key requirements. Galileo was not to “hold or defend” the idea of heliocentrism, he must also give arguments for geocentrism, and he must give forth the views of Pope Urban VII within the text. Galileo agreed to these requirements and his book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, was published in 1632.

Unfortunately and unwittingly (he claimed) Galileo chose to name the fictional character who spoke the Pope’s views “Simplicio,” a name which loosely translates into “simpleton” in Italian. The Pope didn’t think that was very funny. The Inquisition called him to Rome to defend his writings. In 1633, he was ordered to stand trial for heresy, of which he was found guilty. He was forced, with threat of death, to recant his belief in heliocentrism and placed on house arrest for the rest of his life (another nine years).

It’s not all a sad ending. During the last nine years of his life, Galileo wrote the book Two New Sciences on the mechanics and motion of objects and the strengths of different materials, which led to his title as the “father of modern physics.” Also, he did live to be 77 years old in an age where the average expectancy was 35. That’s pretty good too.

Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science. His renowned conflict with the Catholic Church was central to his philosophy, for Galileo was one of the first to argue that man could hope to understand how the world works, and, moreover, that we could do this by observing the real world. –Stephen Hawking

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