Sunday, April 28, 2013

Good Morning Justin...

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 28 April


Good Morning Justin…

I woke up with a start just a couple of minutes ago thinking it was already morning and I had forgotten to write my letter to you.  Actually it is just after midnight so I’ve settled down, I have my coffee and I’m tapping on the keyboard, just like normal.  There goes my alarm.  What a crazy night for dreams this has been.  In fact, the entire week has been  insane with dreams.  I will give you a for instance.  The other morning I woke to find the lower corner of my front door leading to the living room had been sawed away.  The opening was big enough for people to crawl in and out of my apartment.  I complained to the manager that there was a big triangular hole in my door and I needed it fixed.  The manager wasn’t helpful and I suspected she cut the hole herself.  When I returned later in the day I couldn’t find my apartment.  I looked for number 207 but it was no longer there.  All the other numbers were there but mine was gone.  That’s not all.  The hallway leading to my apartment was now very tall.  It had a ceiling that was at least as high as a three story building.  The floor didn’t seem level, either.  I can’t be sure but I think there were strange little people running about.  Were they trying to hide from me?  It seemed my world had turned into a cartoon.  I went to the manager to once again complain.  Where’s my apartment?  It’s not so bad that it’s now gone but all my stuff has disappeared with it and I want it all back.  It’s no use.  Talking has no effect on anyone.  I’m so frustrated.  Frantically I wander long hallways looking for my home.  The floor tilts first up, then down, then up again.  The walls become increasingly high.  By now the ceiling is nearly out of sight.  Am I imagining the distant silhouettes of strange people slinking from hiding place to hiding place?  Where’s the door marked 207?  Nowhere.  Must I now live without all my treasured things?  Don’t cry for help.  It’s of no use.

Morning again.  Make coffee.  Plan the day.  Does it matter?  Plans are mere suggestions.  The dreams I’m having slip away.  I don’t bother to remember.

The worms fall daily on me from the tree.  They inch their way about my sweatshirt, drawing their back end to their front, bowing their skinny body into the air as they do, then extending their front, grasping my shirt and repeating the process.  I flick them into the garden.  The robins eat them like French fries.  The birds squabble among themselves over who owns the garden.  It’s very tasty here.  The food is fattening.  Wild flowers are now peeking through the dirt.  It should rain all day today.  There will definitely be May flowers this year.  The plants, first thought to be weeds, have turned out to be lilac Wisteria.  One day they will grow to be as tall as trees. 

The other day I saw my first woodpecker of the year.  Today I noticed a swallow swooping about vacuuming a diet of insects from the air.  Gangs of noisy crows strut about the neighborhood.  They become increasingly obnoxious as cool spring turns to tropical heat.  They’ll expect pizza crust to be left them on the summer lawn.  No need to worry about the squirrels.  They won’t eat it.  They’re busy stuffing themselves with last year’s acorns.  It’s a fat world.  Everyone here is getting way too fat.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Good Morning Jacob...

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 21 April

Man with Tie

Good Morning Jacob…

The odyssey from Monday’s Marathon bombing to Friday’s boat capture of a teenage suspect charts a path of expectations about the killers that reveals my own good guy versus bad guy view of terrorism.  My own profile of a perpetrator of evil did not include someone described by those who knew him as a sociable, likable, regular kid.  My mind pictured a dedicated fanatic warped by hatred and anger and not someone that just last September 11th had celebrated becoming a naturalized American citizen.  Nineteen year old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appeared to be a young man successfully assimilated into American society and not the cold-hearted murderer depicted on video released by the FBI Thursday.  His older brother, Tamerlan, a self-described ‘very religious’ 26 year old more accurately fit my conception of the lone wolf seething with the need for vengeance.  Yet the news reports have so far implicated these two brothers as a team responsible for random killings of innocents and the assassination of a young police officer at MIT.  It seems human nature has too many unexpected crannies to routinely fit into predictable rules of behavior.

Can you imagine a software game that would enable us to live a life foreign to our own personal experience?  I vaguely know the term schizophrenic.  The dictionary definition paints a picture of someone suffering schizophrenia as sometimes behaving in a bizarre fashion because of their delusional experience with the world.  Imagine yourself having to make daily decisions while being unable to trust your own senses.  I can visualize a game where you, the participant, would have to make choices while uncertain as to the reality of your experience.  How long can you survive before you are locked up or you fall from the roof of a tall building?  A more intense version of disorientation would involve criminal insanity.  These ideas may not be commercially successful.  Most people limit their concept of gaming as a form of entertainment.  I think it is more like reading, which can be time spent for its entertaining value or as a means of elucidation, enlightenment.  I think gaming has greater learning potential than does traditional reading and note-taking.  Maybe I would be safer to say gaming supplements reading.  Books provide an abstract structure to a topic while gaming has the capacity to enable understanding through one’s own personal experience.  I am now able to safely walk a mile in the shoes of a troubled or dangerous individual.  I come to appreciate and anticipate that person’s thought processes.  I come to intuitively understand another’s motivations. 

The topic of gaming mental illness does not imply I suspect the Tsarnaev brothers of any mental or deeply emotional affliction.  Their terrorist acts last Monday would be less troubling if we could ascertain their nature to be well outside the potential of the human norm.  How chilling it is to think these criminal acts were perpetrated by perfectly normal human beings.  As it turns out this may well be the case.  Had the circumstances of their lives been altered they may have been celebrated pillars of the community, role models for our young ones.  Instead, carefully weighed personal decisions have led to them to their own destruction and to destroy the lives and happiness of the many they have had no opportunity to know.  How does this come about?  It is important that we should know.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

To Infinity and Beyond


We still know so little about our four dimensional reality – space plus time.  We have only the slightest inclination of an existence that remains beyond our detection.  Just a few years ago who would have heard the terms dark matter, dark energy, quarks or the Higgins boson?  These are vague catch-all terms for what, as yet, have no explanation.  All speculation about the nature of reality is valid until proven false.  There are plausible arguments for physical space having more than the three dimensions familiar to us.  Why not leave open the possibility that time itself is not as simple as we've described it?

Break down the life process of a single living cell and it can all be explained by the properties of organic molecules.  Is it at all surprising that life, which occurs only at the cellular level, should faithfully follow the laws of physics?  It appears so mechanistic, doesn’t it?  Score one for believers of sterile materialistic existence.  But wait.  How does one explain human consciousness?  What life-sustaining biological purpose does our level of inquiry serve?  Molecules organize into cells that contain the properties of life.  Cells, in turn, organize into more complex organisms.  As these organisms evolve into increasingly sophisticated forms they develop the capacity for an ever expanding awareness of, not only their surroundings, but of abstract understanding and appreciation of their own identity and of a unique inner life.  Our questions range beyond the source of our next meal to ones having for us no possible answer.  Why is there need for existence?  What is the nature of God, if God?  What role did God play prior to creation?  Was there ever a time of Nothing?  If not, why not?  If so, how does something come from absolute Nothing?

Our biological nature limits our ability to perceive and understand.  We are, after all, the mere result of an ingenious organization of simple cells.  We can stare steadfast into the face of existence itself and come away with no more understanding than does a dog peering at the printed word.  It is all there before us but we are not yet ready to know. 

Atheism is a word used by people unwilling to be limited by teachings thousands of years old.  The cantankerous old man of the Old Testament doesn’t fit what we know today except possibly as a literary metaphor or as a vengeful boogie man taught in a Sunday School class.  He might as well be Mother Goose when it comes time to answer our own more serious, probing questions. 

What happens when we die?  No one has the faintest idea.  We are completely free to speculate on the nature of existence following the physical demise of our own life-sustaining vessel.  I’m sure there are those that actually look forward to the solving of this age old mystery.  The good news is that we will either find our answers or we will never know that we didn't.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Good Morning Jack...

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 14 April


Good Morning Jack…

I don’t think anyone, including scientists, has ever attempted to measure the duration of the present.  As far as I know everything in existence occurs within the hairbreadth instantaneous instant of the current time length of now.  It seems we live in a linear series of innumerable instances of now.  All life itself exists only in this instant of now.  Because we have memory, because we anticipate what is coming next, we are left with the impression that life inhabits a fuzzier time frame.  It does not.  The duration of life is only the actual size of a single instance of the recurring period of now.  How long is that?  I suspect it is well less than one one-thousand of a second.  It is probably so minuscule that it can not be properly measured.  We will probably have to all agree on some very small fictional number in order to quantify the length of now

What happens if someone was to become out of sync with our present awareness of the now?  What if they somehow moved to a different version of now?  Is this possible?  I don’t know.  I suspect if your existence was located in a different present from ours then you would be unavailable to us and we would be unknown to you.  Carrying that thought one step further it seems possible for there to be any number of realities inhabiting the same physical space of existence but completely separated by an alternative time frame.  The inhabitants of the different periods of now would be in complete separation from each other because they inhabit parallel but alternate dimensions, separated by a different phase in time.  This is entirely speculative and the conclusions arrived here may change with further thought. 

Freeing our mind of structure and rules enables us to venture down paths having no known basis in reality.  If you think about it you can see how daydreams can be the beginnings for great scientific discovery.  Einstein’s epic Theory of Relativity is thought to have begun with his trolley ride to work.  He spent this time wondering what reality would be like were he able to ride a beam of light.  With his background in physics and mathematics these became more than idle musings.  Certainly there were more knowledgeable physicists than him and there were more talented mathematicians than Einstein but their names are long forgotten.  I believe the difference between genius and being merely brilliant has to do with the capacity to imagine.  Remarkable scientists extrapolate from the appropriate rules in order to arrive at the solution to a problem.  The Einsteins of the world first contemplate what isn't yet thought to exist and then use their education in science and mathematics to prove to the world the truth of their fantasy.  The spark of genius lies in the power of one’s imagination.  In order to budge human knowledge beyond the boundaries of the accepted we have to first visualize thoughts most everyone else would consider absurd.  Besides having a powerful imagination one must also possess the courage to face down ridicule or else quietly abandon the pursuit of one’s own belief.  Human destiny is not engineered by lemmings.  We are all indebted to the few self-sufficient pathfinders that scout our course, often sacrificing their own well-being so that we may benefit from their discoveries.  Society busies itself elaborating on the ideas of a few.  They are fashioned into the tools of our economy.  They form the structure of our education.  They provide the foundation from which new odysseys are launched by an entirely new generation of pioneers. 

What is the length of the present instance of existence?  Can it be measured?  Is there the possibility of time frames parallel to our own?  Is time a linear progression or is this an illusion brought about by our own experience of time?  How do we go about studying the properties of time?  What tools will we need?  What education will be required?  How do we prove the validity or falseness of our speculation?  A talented and resourceful individual could devote their life to answering some of these questions.  Personal commitment, great labor and brilliant thought does not guarantee for one individual success.  Many a worthy and heroic individual has pursued their dream to an unproductive end.  Many people are required to chart their own separate course of discovery so that we can celebrate the glorious achievement of the so very few.  They are lone vessels cast upon a disquieted sea.  It’s the nature of life.  Great reward begins with first taking high risk.  You can’t avoid it.  If you succeed society benefits, and you are rewarded with your name and a thumbnail photo of yourself published in some barely read textbook somewhere.  But that’s OK.  If fame were your goal you would have long ago shucked the books and you’d have bought teeth whitener and a plane ticket to Hollywood.  With luck you’d have a golden nest egg for retirement and, when you die, you’d get a thumbnail picture of yourself and a short blurb to go with it in the obituary column of the New York Times.  Congratulations!  You've achieved a recognition approximating our notion of immortality.  No matter how you choose to look at it, the fact is, popular recognition makes for a poor facsimile of a human’s true worth.  Live your life to the standards worthy of you and let everything else be as it may.  That is all we’re good for.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Cleaning Jesus' Garage

Sunset Blvd.

I’m really conscious of time, more than ever; not hours in the day but simply days – day after day after day.  They accumulate so rapidly.  The arrival of 2013 is a fanfare moment, duly noted and now almost forgotten.  This year has taken on the character and rhythm of most every year preceding it.  The year’s number designation is of no matter in life.  We rely on ourselves to determine the nature of the time we use.  How do we address the moment?  The words ‘acceptance without passivity’ sound good to me.  I suppose that means being active in a focused, goal-oriented manner while being personally dispassionate.  One becomes absorbed in a process while being detached from consideration of personal penalty and reward.  Attaining this attitude would seem to result in increased freedom and clarity of thought.

What an oddly vacant crossroad this is.  Heaven waits beyond the horizon.  Once I arrive Jesus has me clean out his garage.  Mementos are everywhere.  I am initially undaunted but, over time, I discover the chore never ends.  An eternity of memories are revealed but only a few at a time.  Why me?  Why am I singled out for such a lonely task?  Because you must find here what you haven’t yet found, Jesus says.  What is it I’m supposed to find among all this dust, I ask.  You should know, Jesus responds.  I think I do but I won’t give him the satisfaction of acknowledging it. 

Instead I say, “Why not just toss me into Hell?”
“There is no Hell,” he says.  “There’s nothing to learn there.”
“And will I learn something here?”
“You already have.”
“But there’s more?”
“What happens if I discover what I haven’t yet found?”
“You disappear.”
“This should make me happy?”
“You’re gone.  Happiness is irrelevant.”
“I don’t want to be gone.  I choose not to find it.”
“It doesn’t matter.  You have forever.  You will find it and you will lose yourself.”
“It’s rigged.  I can’t win.  I hate this whole rotten existence.”
“Yes.  Being ‘no more’ is beginning to look appealing, isn't it?”
“I hate you.”
“I’m used to it.”

Time is what you make it.  Not time is also infinite.  This is the fact of death.  Somewhere a birth day is celebrated, the beginning of a one time chance at life.  We are given the opportunity to discover our own personal meaning for living.  During this process we also search for the meaning of our own personal death.  Once the moment of death arrives everything of ourselves that hasn't yet been passed along for others to know is lost forever.  There is no second chance.  This is what I choose to think.  I won’t quietly take it with me.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Good Morning Jessicca...

Letter to my Daughter
Sunday, 7 April

Jessicca's Holiday Visit

They are shutting down CERN until 2015 for repairs.  The LHC, Large Hadron Collider, is the largest and most powerful of the world’s particle accelerators.  The Higgs boson, the subatomic particle believed responsible for holding matter together, was first isolated and identified through research at CERN.  It is thought to be one of a category that includes possibly up to six different subatomic particles responsible for the formation of physical matter and the phenomenon of gravity.  The LHC is providing the most extraordinary clues to the nature of existence itself and the technology needed to provide this information has to be invented as it is employed.  Consequently equipment sometimes doesn’t work as intended.  The LHC has been operating at half its intended power because of problems in its radical design.  The facility is being shut down to rectify these issues.  Once it returns online two years from now it should have the power to further break apart subatomic matter in an effort to further determine the nature of physical existence. 

Over our heads, circling the earth, a two billion dollar experiment on the International Space Station may have detected the first tangible evidence of what is called dark matter.  The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, AMS, is a particle physics machine designed to provide scientists some indication as to the nature of this mysterious matter that makes up nearly 27% of the known universe.  Another force in the universe is termed dark energy and it accounts for over 68% of the mass/energy density of the Universe.  That means we can detect with our scientific equipment only about 5% of what is known to be physical reality.  We know something of the effect these unidentified forces have on the shape and movement of galaxies but we have yet to discover what it is they are.  It is like Mendel seeing the evidence of inherited traits in peas but not having any knowledge of molecular DNA.  It is now apparent to scientists that the Periodic Table of atoms is, in fact, only the tip of the iceberg. 

The AMS particle device took 18 years to develop.  For many of the people working on this experiment that represents a good portion of one’s career.  Watching it launch on the tip of a rocket makes for an excruciating case of nerves.  A single malfunction and years of dedication are destroyed in an instant.  It has happened before.  If the venture accomplishes its mission a very small piece of information will be added to our scientific knowledge.  Human knowledge, civilization itself, is built in small increments by individuals committed to working in a disciplined, pain-staking fashion.  Society always reflects the efforts of many lives, of individual sacrifice and ingenuity.  The best of our efforts as people, you and I, is what drives humanity forward.  Some of us work daily with test tubes, others work on cars.  Some of us gather information from books.  Some of us are fascinated by the people around us and find what it is we need to know by communicating directly with others.  Some people find meaning in paint or through expression in the written word.  Others of us are motivated to just live fully through what it is we experience in our daily lives.  We pass on to others who it is we are through the display of our character, the theater of our example as one life well-lived. 

Life isn't a carefree drive down a pleasant highway.  Were it otherwise what value would there be for having strong character traits such as humility, determination and acts of selfless devotion?  Simply enjoying ourselves is all the reward we might ever need in a life free from want.  Can one born into such a situation be considered lucky?  I doubt it.  People sheltered from adversity and handed most everything their heart desires still find ways to complicate their lives to the point of misery.  We learn from example that endless self-indulgence is a stifling bore.  We do poorly when we fail to exercise our brain, our muscles and our humanity.  The exclamation points of our lives are best served infrequently.  It’s a fact!  It gets tedious!  Nothing is special!  How hopeless it seems to always have what you want!  It drives you crazy!  You quickly see what I mean!  Help!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Contemplating the Bauble


Folly in politics results in very real physical or economic or social suffering by those adversely influenced by its misguided policy.  Folly in science is eventually compared with the truth of reality and found wanting.  Folly in art is generally ignored as being mere bad taste.  Is bad art still art, but badly done or does it fail the test of art and is it then more accurately described as bad painting or bad writing or acting or… whatever?  What measure is used to determine whether a work is fit to be termed art?  Who, among the vast population, describes this measure?  No matter the answers to these questions the fact is most people don’t care.  They know what they like.  Anyone demeaning their favorite movie or painting is guilty of being an over-educated snob.  The standards of academics and connoisseurs discounts the pleasure derived from their condemned art.  If someone says my proudly displayed Coke Refreshes! porch thermometer is kitsch then they obviously don’t get it.  They must eat multi-course meals with a fork for each serving and don’t know the joy of a simple hot dog with mustard.  They are prisoners of their ivory tower mentality. 

Can a mass produced wall thermometer advertising Coke be considered art?  Not likely but it might be to an anthropologist unearthing the sole surviving one a few hundred years from now.  Andy Warhol imitating The Real Thing might also qualify its meaning enough to be worthy of art.  Why?  Warhol’s intent is not to boost soda pop sales.  He’s drawing attention to the intrinsic value of the object itself, and with more than a little irony.  His reaction is much the same as that of the anthropologist discovering a colorful artifact representing some aesthetic value of an ancient civilization.  The treasured find is seen for what it really is – a pleasurable creation.  It is no longer viewed as cynical commercialism.  It is an expression of joy.  The person designing the thermometer didn't care about Coke sales.  Here was an aspiring artist being given the job to design something fun and useful.  It isn't art, though; no more than is a cleverly designed toaster.  They don’t speak to the ultimate futility that is human life.  The thermometer just promises you that an ice cold Coke on a really hot day is refreshing.  Somewhere there is an artist imagining a bright red sculpture for your kitchen counter that also toasts your bread.  What is so wrong with these thoughts?  Do I have to be disturbed or ponder something at great length in order for it to be worthy of art?  Give me a break.  Art is big enough to be represented in most everything we touch and do.  Sure, it’s not all of the same caliber or purpose.  Some items suggest longings never to be fulfilled while others delight our senses at a child’s birthday. 

Feel free to mass produce art.  Let yourself go and fill your home with the junk you celebrate as life enhancing.  The world is a better place populated with neon colored shoes and people going around in pants that soon enough will be thought too ridiculous for anyone to wear.  People sacrifice their lives over beliefs in religion and politics but no one ever goes to war over women’s fashion.  It’s human nature to always be thinking up new and exotic ways to adorn the female figure and enhance the features of the feminine face.  It’s a healthy preoccupation.  You’re not likely to find a single dress designer armed for mortal combat or on a government sanctioned terrorist list.  They’re simply too busy thinking up fresh new takes on baubles, bangles and bright shiny beads.