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Archive for the ‘Science and Magic’ Category

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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Columbus Day is rapidly approaching. I know that, because two of my sisters were born on Columbus Day. And one nephew too. One of my sisters, whose birthday is rapidly approaching, got me a present for my birthday (which is in April) and even if she didn’t mail me my present yet, she got me one and so I feel like I should get her one too, a really good one, and put it on my refrigerator until she mails mine. That way there would be matching un-mailed presents on the tops of two fridges at the kitty corner’s of our great North American continent. None of that is what I wanted to talk about though. I wanted to talk about the earth’s shape and orbital status within the Solar System.

Now, while some people are still on the fence about it, most people believe that the earth is a sphere. Some of these people have actually known that the Earth was a sphere a waaaaaayyyy long time ago, waaaaaaayyyyy before Christopher Columbus sailed that ocean blue and didn’t fall off. Some people say that Aristotle (350 BCE) was the first to observe that the Earth was round when he saw that it cast a circular shadow during a lunar eclipse. Pythagoras supposedly wrote about the round Earth 15o years prior to Aristotle. According to my sources, it’s very likely that Columbus already knew that the world was round before he even sailed. It’s a wonder that he gets all that credit and my sister’s birthday named after him.

So here’s the story on geo v. heliocentrism. Ptolemy, who was born around 90 AD, wrote a series of volumes collectively entitled The Almgest which means “the Great Treatise.” This massive work was a collection of everything anyone had published about astronomy up to that date, plus a few extra of Ptolemy’s own gleanings. Ptolemy was a very influential fellow and his book provided the foundations for the next few centuries of astronomers. But, Ptolemy made a few tiny errors in his book…

Aristarchus of Samos, born around 310 BC, believed that the sun was at the center of our solar system.

Aristarchus has brought out a book consisting of certain hypotheses, wherein it appears, as a consequence of the assumptions made, that the universe is many times greater than the ‘universe’ just mentioned. His hypotheses are that the fixed stars and the Sun remain unmoved, that the Earth revolves about the Sun on the circumference of a circle, the Sun lying in the middle of the Floor. (Archimedes in The Sand Reckoner)

Ptolemy didn’t believe Aristarchus. He put the geocentric model into his Almgest, and because it was such a good read, and because certain special priests enjoyed the prestige of being “chosen” as God’s very favorites, and because the Earth doesn’t feel like it’s moving, the idea stuck for a while…and scientists of the day mulled over whether Aristarchus should be punished for publishing such pernicious ideas…until Copernicus entered the scene a few centuries later.

Copernicus was a very smart fellow who had a funny haircut for at least one day of his life (see attached painting), who happened to believe that Aristarchus was right. Copernicus had the smarts enough to wait until he was on his death bed to publish his book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), which was the first argument for a heliocentric model in hundreds of years.(Giordano Bruno, an Italian scientist, was burned at the stake in 1600 for promoting a heliocentric model.) It’s said that Copernicus awoke one evening and was shown a copy of the newly printed book at which point he closed his eyes once more and died peacefully.

On the sweet note of this portrait of Copernicus from 1580, I’ll leave you pondering the outcome of orbital hierarchies. Stay tuned to discover which famous stargazer broke open the geohelio conflict, which one glued on his own nose each morning, and which one calculated the accepted birth date of Christ based on an a rare astrological conjunction…

ps. In lieu of celebrating Columbus Day, you can just send my sisters a present, if you want to.

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(photo by Chris Jordan found at http://www.treehugger.com)

What follows will reveal a few things that are going on inside my body (and possibly yours as well). If you are squeamish about innerbody goings on, then perhaps this isn’t the posting for you…

I just had an appointment with my naturopath and found out that I am estrogen dominant. While this may seem shocking to you, it apparently happens a lot in today’s modern bodies, men and women alike. During our conversation, my naturopath tossed out the word xenobiotic and I was immediately intrigued. What a great word! But what does it mean?

Xeno: comes from the Greek word xenos which mean strange or foreign. Therefore, xenobiotic means strange or foreign life. Sounds very sci-fi at first. However, the word strange in this case does not mean weird or unusually shaped, it means from somewhere else (as in xenophobia=fear of people from other countries).

What does that have to do with my estrogen dominance? Here is the definition of xenobiotics from Wikipedia:

xenobiotic is a chemical which is found in an organism but which is not normally produced or expected to be present in it. It can also cover substances which are present in much higher concentrations than are usual.

In other words, I have estrogen where it doesn’t belong, namely, in my follicular phase. That isn’t as gross as it sounds, it simply means day 1-14 of my bodily cycle. Come on now, don’t be bashful, we’ve all got one…just take a deep breath and keep reading.

I asked the doctor how the extra estrogen got there. Apparently there are a lot of ways that hormones can get wonky, most of them having to do with toxic chemicals, diet and stress. Her advice to me (along with a small arsenal of herbs and homeopathic remedies) was to cut back on red meat and dairy (which are hormoney), don’t eat or drink out of plastic containers, eat more plain vegetables and soups, stop drinking coffee, and try to relax more during my follicular phase (day 1-14).

I did some research when I got home on the plastics. Apparently some plastics leach estrogen mimicking hormones into our bodies when we’re not looking. Unfortunately these plastics are what most companies use to package foods and drinks and are also used to line canned food products. Every time I crank open a can of pintos, I get a nice dose of Bisphenol-A, an estrogen mimicking component of poly-carbonate plastic, which has 2000-5000 times the potency of natural estrogen. Geez, no wonder I’m estrogen dominant. (If you live in Eugene, check out this blog post from Sundance Natural Grocery. They have made the decision to excise all BPA’s from their shelves.)

Wildlife toxicologist Dr. Micheal Frye says that the chemicals that mess with our hormones (“endocrine interfering” chemicals) are all around us. In this interview, he says that in 1996 the Environmental Protection Agency was charged with testing 80,000 chemicals for “sub lethal effects” (sub lethal meaning they won’t kill you immediately, it might take a few decades). The EPA just began it’s testing process this year. Diseases that can be caused by hormone imbalances include diabetes, eating disorders, osteoporosis, hypertension, cholesterol disorders, infertility, thyroid disease, obesity, and cancer.

So what am I going to do with my estrogen dominance? During my follicular phase I’m going to cut back on red meat and eat more veggies, and try really hard to not eat out of plastic containers or cans, and stop drinking coffee every day, and take my herbs and homeopathics, and I’m going to continue to try and relax better. And I’m not going to be neurotic about it. Hopefully.

By the way, Dr. Frye says that plastics numbered 3,6 and 7 are toxic and should be avoided. Plastics numbered 2,4 and 5 are non-toxic…

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(Watermelon Monster from the Buson YŌkai Emaki-1754)

We see nature around us, and we see also that man enters into his physical existence through the forces of this same nature. We know through our study of Spiritual Science that we do not rightly regard nature if we only pay attention to its external physical features. We know that divine forces permeate it and we only become aware of our origin from nature in the true sense of the word when we perceive this divine element that weaves and works within it. -Rudolf Steiner

I was camping this weekend, wading around in these big rock bowls carved out by the flowing water. If I stood in the same place long enough little tiny fish came over and nibbled on my skin (a little disturbing, but cute). My partner pointed out the St. John’s Wort growing by the waters edge. I got a little sunburnt on my pasty neck. When the sun went down a bat flew by my ear and I heard strange rustlings in the grass. It was super fun.

I’ve had to quit drinking alcohol. And quit smoking cigarettes. And, since “the Great Liver Cleanse” of summer 2010 I can’t even drink a proper cup of coffee anymore. I find myself searching for the next best mood mender, or whatever you want to call it. It apparently needs to be something that doesn’t harm me or make me irritable. I’ve decided that my next vice will be to become obsessed with finding God.

No, no…that will never do! says the guru in my head. One who is obsessed will never reach enlightenment! You must touch God lightly, for she is like a watermelon seed–once you squeeze…squirt, gone!

This afternoon I went to my favorite Rosen bodywork practitioner. I’ve told her about my quest to find God and to become like Jesus. (She does Vipassana meditation. I don’t know exactly what that is, but it sounds serious). I told her I’d like her to help me release the anger that’s trapped inside my body. I told her my latest favorite quote from the Brahma Kumaris anger management handout: How can there be peace on earth, if the hearts of men are like volcanoes? (This is one of those instances where the word man=humanity, in case you wondered if women could have volcanic hearts as well. There is a well known study–ok it’s an article I found online–that says that girls are getting more and more aggressive. My favorite quote: “And it spoke to me about how this new American girl is wrestling with the same issues the American boy has been.” Gosh! What an insight! Amazing. I wonder if they might even someday find that girls from other countries experience similar things as boys from their same countries too? The world is wild and strange.)

Anyway, I said to my Rosen practitioner “how can there be peace on earth, if the hearts of man are like volcanoes?”

“That is why there will never be peace on earth,” she answered quickly with a wry, Vipassanic smile. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t joking.

There is peace in nature though. I know that animals can be vicious (I’m glad those crazy fishes didn’t have teeth!). That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about balance. I feel top heavy. My head is way bigger than my body and I have to walk really fast to keep up with it, so that gravity doesn’t make it smash to the ground.

I will practice slowing down. I will practice slowing down. I will practice slowing down.

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest-a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty.-Einstein

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If a tree falls in the woods, but there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound? When I was younger and I heard this riddle, I thought it was a pile of crap. Of course it makes a sound! You don’t have to be there to hear it!

Then I taught a fifth grade block on acoustics. I had never really thought about the fact that our ears and their innards are devices contrived to catch vibrations that wiggle through the air after some disturbance has occurred. These vibrations are translated by the other soggy tool that many humans have: the brain.

If a tree falls in the woods, it makes vibrations that wiggle through the air. But vibrations in and of themselves, are not sound. They are vibrations that have the potential to be sound.

What’s the point? Following my therablog posting on violence and the apparent disconnect between two highly touted ways of being in the world (thinking positively will bring joy to you v. being aware/conscious of dangerous situations will keep you safe as described in Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear), I attended a Rosicrucian conference in San Jose, CA. The speakers talked all about the connections between our thoughts and our material world (health, wealth, joie de vivre) and how we create our world anew every moment, through our thoughts about it.

About a month or so ago I bookstore-perused a book entitled Five Steps to a Quantum Life: How to Use the Astounding Secrets of Quantum Physics to Create the Life You Want. The author, Natalie Reid, spoke about a phenomenon that you may be familiar with: once you buy a red car, you see red cars everywhere. She raises the question–were you not seeing them before because you didn’t notice them, or were you not seeing them there before because they actually weren’t there until you became conscious of them?

That sounds stupid, until you think about the above tree fall riddle, and mix it up with the utterly astounding complexities that scientists from every part of the globe are presently testing: string theory (the theory that elementary particles are long strings of light vibrating at different modes like guitar strings), multiverses (parallel universes or alternate realities, in which another you might exist, which are created with every choice that you make) and brane theory (that alternate Universe in which you might live could actually exist upon the skin of one of those vibrating strings mentioned earlier). Who do you think you are? When you make a choice, if another you is whisked away into another Universe, having made a different choice, are you her too? Or is she somebody else now?

Your choices on how you perceive the world (what you are conscious of) create your reality by collapsing the waves of possibility provided by subatomic particles swooshing all around you. (Read more about this here.)

Further questioning, does evil (or violence) exist if you choose not to see it–i.e. choose to not believe in it? Can we choose what we want to perceive in the world? I certainly know that I have experience folks with high abilities to choose what they hear–selective hearing.

One commenter mentioned on my last posting that thinking positively doesn’t preclude the necessity to be aware of potential dangers. But, is it possible that just by acknowledging the fact that someone or something could be harmful to us, we bring violence into our reality when it wasn’t there before?

If you reject negative particles bouncing toward you as non-existent, like the red cars that you don’t see…would they then simply move on and bother someone else who does believe in them, someone who will collapse that experience out of the sea of possibilities?

Rejecting the possibility of danger is a tall order, I know…and one that to test you’d kind of have to be willing to be murdered. I’m not sure what I think about it.

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(photo courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

In the book Dreaming the Future, Clifford Pickover describes a few themes recorded during several future life progressions (as opposed to past life regressions):

21st Century-World peace is attained and lasts three thousand years. Hunger, greed and prejudice are reduced. 22nd Century-Solar power is part of daily life. The average life span is ninety years. 23rd Century-Transportation is noiseless and efficient. Nuclear power is used extensively. Average life span is 110 years. 24th Century-Humankind reexperiences earlier mistakes. International political problems recur. A small scale-nuclear war reduces human population. 25th Century-Humans control the weather. Androids perform all menial tasks. A major nuclear war occurs that decimates most of humanity.

When I first read this, I was surprised that nuclear power was a major source of energy. I had always thought the nuclear power was bad, bad, baaaaddd. So I looked it up on Wikipedia. Here’s the skinny:

Nuclear power is cheap (around the same cost as coal), it doesn’t produce smoke or carbon dioxide pollutants, it requires very little fuel to create a LOT of energy, and there is only just a small amount of waste produced in nuclear power production. HOWEVER, that small amount of waste is highly toxic (can cause genetic mutation, cancer, and death) and takes 10,000 to 1,000,000 years to break down.

Sheesh.

So as I’m reading this on Wikipedia, I run across a curious word: transmutation. Transmutation is an alchemical term. Yes, alchemy. The scientific study of the ancients (Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Indians, Persians, Greco-Romans, medieval Islamics as well as the ancient Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans). Alchemy is the art of refinement. The alchemist’s goal is to separate the ingredients of different chemicals and refine them using various means (extraction, fire, distillation, etc.) to their purest form. The most popular goal of alchemy is turning lead into gold, however, alchemy is first and foremost a spiritual discipline. Transmuting base metals into gold is a metaphor for purifying the human body, with the highest goal being no less than immortality (enlightenment).

What can this have to do with nuclear waste? Well, here it is: scientists have discovered ways to transmute the elements (not fire, water, air and earth…I’m talking about the actual elements on the periodic table). In 1901 Fredrick Soddy noticed that thorium can convert into radium. In 1919 Ernest Rutherford converted nitrogen into oxygen. And in 1957 scientists recorded their discoveries that elements are transmuted in the fires of the stars. Now, scientists are using this nuclear transmutation, a hearkening back to the theories of the ancients, to de-toxify radioactive waste.

Transmutation was banned in the US in April 1977 by President Carter due to the danger of plutonium proliferation, but President Reagan rescinded the ban in 1981. Due to the economic losses and risks, construction of reprocessing plants during this time did not resume. Due to high energy demand, work on the method has continued in the EU. This has resulted in a practical nuclear research reactor called Myrrha in which transmutation is possible. Additionally, a new research program called ACTINET has been started in the EU to make transmutation possible on a large, industrial scale. According to President Bush’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) of 2007, the US is now actively promoting research on transmutation technologies needed to markedly reduce the problem of nuclear waste treatment. (from Wikipedia)

Wow. Maybe there’s hope yet. (At least until the 25th Century that is…)

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Once, when I was a kid, somebody told me about the fight between creationists and evolutionaryists. I looked up some information in my red Encyclopedia Britanica. I couldn’t figure out who was right. So I asked my mom, who usually knew the answers. She said both were right.

Both.

Can you believe it? Two totally opposite viewpoints which, on the surface, seem to be completely contradictory, are simultaneously right. Her simple explanation was that God started the Big Bang. To my young mind, the answer was genius. Why couldn’t everyone else see that?

John Dee (13 July 1527-1608 or 1609) was a noted mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, navigator, imperialist, and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I. He devoted much of his life to the study of alchemy, divination, and Hermetic philosophy.

Dee straddled the worlds of science and magic just as they were becoming distinguishable. (from Wikipedia) (I like that last sentence.)

John Dee, in between his algebra lectures and his medical practice, was involved with alchemy and the art of calling angels. He used a black crystal stone (given to him by a boy-shaped angel)  and an obsidian mirror for scrying, although he preferred to let his friend Edward Kelly do the scrying while he took notes.

The angels taught Dee the ‘language of Enoch,’ which was supposedly spoken by Adam before the Fall. Kelly, in a trance, dictated to Dee The Book of Enoch, which revealed the mysteries of creation. (from The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft Magic, by Susan Greenwood)

Dee’s life ended poorly. He broke off connections with Kelly when Kelly told him that the angels wished for Dee to share his wife with his friend. His benefactor, Queen Elizabeth died. Her successor James I had no sympathy for divination and provided him no respite. His books and property were stolen. He died a pauper. But he had lived with a vision. His vision was to see the ultimate truth.

Dee did not draw distinctions between his mathematical research and his investigations into Hermetic magic, angel summoning and divination. Instead he considered all of his activities to constitute different facets of the same quest: the search for a transcendent understanding of the divine forms which underlie the visible world, which Dee called “pure verities.”

His ultimate goal was to help bring forth a unified world religion through the healing of the breach of the Catholic and Protestant churches and the recapture of the pure theology of the ancients. (Wikipedia)

Wow.

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