January 2020 Quote: "The only stars in the Universe are not just the bright ones you see at night." [Terry Riopka, 2020]
The first things our telescopes see are the biggest, the brightest, the most powerful beacons of light that are out there, the largest planets, the super-jupiters, because we search, like the drunk looking for his lost keys where the light is bigger and brighter, simply because it is. We tend to miss the "normality" because we are so easily distracted by the extremes. The internet today, is a magnet for the extreme, which makes it *really* hard to define normality. What irks me is that what I call the "fluff people" - the ones that pretend the world is all rosy, that climate change is just "normal", for whom happy thoughts are all that are needed to solve the world's problems - will likely take the wrong lesson from what I'm saying. The lesson is this: we need to work *hard* to determine what normality is. There are many forces out there that want to distract you from the real problems of this world. Unless you're careful, you can easily fool yourself into believing that the only stars in this Universe are just the bright ones you see at night.
December 2019 Quote: "...they say humanity having had to endure during thousands of years the consequences of natural phenomena and to learn, in order to survive, to adapt itself to it, our mind has thus learned little by little to form its logic and its rules of reasoning under the pressure of the material world, and it must not, in consequence, be astonished to recover in the material world the logic and the rules of reasoning that it has extracted from it...Personally, we do not find this argument very conclusive..." [Louis De Broglie, from Physics and Microphysics, 1955]
De Broglie did not find this argument convincing. Nevertheless, how can it be otherwise? Like other creatures on this planet, we have all evolved in the same Reality. Early forms of life had limited computational resources, requiring simple conceptualizations to survive. Concepts of space and time seemed amenable to the simplest forms of processing, enabling a coherent interpretation of the world at minimum cost. No doubt, the logical behavior of the world reflected itself in our thought processes and caused us to learn logical patterns that were capable of predicting behavior in the world. Clearly, logical behavior abounds in our Reality, but the world is being seen through the lenses of our evolved sensibilities in the context of only what we can directly experience. To go beyond the visible,to approach the thing-in-itself, we will need to evolve new representations, and to try to think thoughts we have never thought before.
February 2019 Quote: "In the final analysis, we count for something only because of the essential we embody, and if we do not embody that, life is wasted." [C.G. Jung]
A BRAVE AND STARTLING TRUTH
We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth
And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms
When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil
When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze
When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse
When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets
Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world
When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe
We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines
When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear
When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.
[by Maya Angelou, for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, 1995]
Inspired by Carl Sagan's "pale blue dot" reference to our Earth as seen from the Voyager spacecraft as it left the Solar System, Maya Angelou composed this poem for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations in 1995. It's a tribute to humanity and a beautiful message of hope for the survival of our planet.
October 2018 Quote: "The world is big and great and beautiful. My scientific knowledge of the events in it comprises hundreds of millions of years. Yet in another way it is ostensibly contained in a poor seventy or eighty or ninety years granted to me - a tiny spot in immeasurable time, nay even in the finite millions and milliards of years that I have learnt to measure and to assess. Whence come I and whither go I? That is the great unfathomable question, the same for every one of us." [Erwin Schroedinger from Nature and the Greeks, 1954]
July 2018 Quote: "God may have written just a few laws and grown tired. We do not know whether we are in a tidy universe or an untidy one. [Nancy Cartwright in How the Laws of Physics Lie, 1983]
May 2018 Quote: "I reject any fixed and context independent distinction between (observable) phenomena and facts or characterizations of a hypothetical 'unobservable' theoretical domain. All our access is indirect, so that there are only differences in degree, but not in principle, between our epistemic access to apples and to atoms. " [Paul Teller in Twilight of the Perfect Model Model, 2001].
February 2018 Quote: "...only when it is dark enough can you see the stars." [Martin Luther King Jr. on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, from his final speech before his assassination].
December 2017 Quote: "I firmly disbelieve, myself, that our human experience is the highest form of experience extant in the universe. I believe rather that we stand in much the same relation to the whole of the universe as our canine and feline pets do to the whole of human life. They inhabit our drawing rooms and libraries. They take part in scenes of whose significance they have no inkling. They are merely tangent to curves of history, the beginnings and ends and forms of which pass wholly beyond their ken. So we are tangent to the wider life of things." [William James from Varieties of Religious Experience, New York, 1902 p.299].
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dylan Thomas, 1914 - 1953
A friend of mine said these words from Dylan Thomas never fail to lift her spirits. I can see why. It is a powerful poem of hope, of courage, of the resoluteness of our indomitable human will.
Hester:"Don't expend your energy on this..trying to reach me. You cannot. There's a chasm between us."
Laura: "Every time I meet another one of you, I realise what David Elster really did. Astonishing!"
Hester: "What did he do?"
Laura: "He didn't create anything new. He wasn't ever trying to. He was remaking us, in your form, and he did it perfectly. You couldn't be more human."
Hester: "You're wrong. You have no idea what it's like to be me."
Laura: "If you were human, there'd be a name for what you are. A diagnosis, treatment. Our hospitals and prisons are full of violent, damaged people, just like you, born wired a little wrong and having had the bad luck to have a shit life on top. You've gone wrong. Just like one of us would. Everything you're feeling, it's very human, Hester. You're the proof that David Elster succeeded."
[Humans Series 2, Episode #8 2017]
Humans is a sci-fi tv series based on a Swedish sci-fi drama Real Humans, exploring the social, cultural, and psychological impact of the invention of anthropomorphic robots called "synths". In this dialogue, a murderous synth named Hester has taken a human hostage, who argues that the psychopathy of the synth is proof of the synth's sentience and (both ironically and sadly) evidence more of its humanity, than its alien artificiality. I liked this series for the kinds of questions it raised. What does it mean to be human in a world where synthetic artificially intelligent humanoids exist? Will artificially intelligent humanoids be aliens among us? How will our concepts of morality, love, freedom evolve to integrate these new beings into our society? Are we merely the sum of our memories and experiences?
October (2016): "Some people choose to see the ugliness in this world, the disarray. I choose to see the beauty. To believe there is an order to our days. A purpose."[Dolores in WestWorld, 2016].
So far, I've been very impressed with the writing of Westworld. The early episodes seem to be laying the groundwork for a fascinating exploration into consciousness and what it means for man and machine. Are human beings really the ones who are delusional about their "conscious" existence in this seemingly meaningless world? Can sentient machines teach us something about our own place in this Universe? Are we all just the sum of our memories? What if the memories you woke up with this morning - of the world, your childhood, your life experience, yesterday - were just placed there moments before you awoke today?
April (2016): "...the emergence of the machine marks the supreme emancipation from the rule of the laws of nature, the supreme apparition of freedom in using those laws. In the machine the work of man is completely objectified; purposive human agency is incorporated, as it were, within nature as part of the things of nature, and thereby the control over nature is radicalized."[Keiji Nishitani, 1982].
February (2016): "Do not overlook the beauty in the hardness of the world." [T. P. Riopka]
Quote: "Not ignorence, but ignorence of ignorence, is the death of knowledge." [Alfred North Whitehead]
Quote: "Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear."[Thomas Jefferson]
Quote: "All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to understanding and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason." [Immanuel Kant]
Quote: "So Kant did not deny that there is a real world independent of our minds. When I shift my position and see different things this must be because I have altered the relations in which I stand to the constituents of some kind of real world. Since, for him, then, the world of familiar experience arises from the interaction between my mind and these unimaginable real things, Kant sees no need to appeal, like Berkeley, to a God in whose imagery we participate. But we must avoid assimilating his position to that of a realist about the physical world like Locke, and taking these unimaginable things in themselves as physical realities which act upon our sense organs, for they have no physical properties such as shape and movement, while our sense organs themselves are only features of that show world which arises from the action of the things in themseleves upon our minds. [T.L. S Sprigge, from "Theories of Existence", Penguin Books, 1984, p.60].
Kant was a transcendental idealist: this is in contrast to the empirical idealist who does not believe that the physical world actually exists. For the transcendental idealist, the physical world does exist, but only as a system of possible appearances for a given consciousness. He believed that there are not only things in themselves which are what physical objects really are, but that there are things in themselves which are what are minds really are. By allowing for the unknowable aspect of the true essence of our own minds, i.e. by suggesting the physical world as well as our minds belong to a type of "show" world, he believed that the true world of things in themselves could possibly answer to the aspirations of a religious faith. In this way, he thought he removed any ground for rejecting religious faith as falsifiable by facts about the present world. Read more about Kant here.
Quote: "Some physicists, among them myself, cannot believe that we must abandon, actually and forever, the idea of direct representation of physical reality in space and time; or that we must accept the view that events in nature are analogous to a game of chance. It is open to every man to choose the direction of his striving; and also every man may draw comfort from Lessing's fine saying, that the search for truth is more precious than its possession." [Albert Einstein, from "Out of My Later Years", Philosophical Library, Inc., 1950, p. 110]
Quote: " Our intellect does not draw its laws from nature, but it imposes its laws upon nature." [Immanuel Kant]
Quote: "There's a world of difference between the truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth." [Maya Angelou]
The Night Abraham Called to the Stars
by Robert Bly
Do you remember the night Abraham first called
To the stars? He cried to Saturn: "You are my Lord!"
How happy he was! When he saw the Dawn Star,
He cried, "You are my Lord!" How destroyed he was
When he watched them set. Friends, he is like us:
We take as our Lord the stars that go down.
We are faithful companions to the unfaithful stars.
We are diggers, like badgers; we love to feel
The dirt flying out from behind our hind claws.
And no one can convince us that mud is not
Beautiful. It is our badger soul that thinks so.
We are ready to spend the rest of our life
Walking with muddy shoes in the wet fields.
We resemble exiles in the kingdom of the serpent.
We stand in the onion fields looking up at the night.
My heart is a calm potato by day, and a weeping,
Abandoned woman by night. Friend, tell me what to do,
Since I am a man in love with the setting stars.
This poem is one of several in the collection by the same name, written in an intricate form called the ghazal, which is the central poetic form in Islam. I went to a poetry reading by Robert Bly (I went to a poetry reading by Robert Bly) in Woodstock last summer, and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed his reading. He is both funny and philosophically insightful. What I like most, is the way he repeats phrases that he thinks are particularly thought provoking or central to a poem's theme. Now, whenever I read his work, I hear him in my mind, and the poetry comes alive with all the humor, emotion and conviction his reading had when I first heard him.
Quote:"...to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me." [Isaac Newton]
Quote:"Having faith is not believing without proof, but trusting without reservation." [Rev. William Sloane Coffin, PBS Interview by Bill Moyer, 2004]
Quote:"It is not so much our judgements as it is our prejudices that constitute our being... the historicity of our existence entails that prejudices, in the literal sense of the word, constitute the initial directedness of our whole ability to experience. Prejudices are biases of our openness to the world. They are simply conditions whereby we experience something - whereby what we encounter says something to us." [Hans-Georg Gadamer (1976) from Philosophical Hermeneutics (trans. by David E. Linge), p. 9]
Quote:"I like the rain, because I know it will always end." [Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh]
September(2003): You and I, we are all here to change the world, for better or for worse.[T. P. Riopka]
Ok...so I made this up. No doubt, someone else has already said this, probably more eloquently than I. Nevertheless, we are all here to change the world, something I believe very strongly. We live, we learn and we love, but without acting or communicating our thoughts or feelings to the outside world, all would be for nought. We change the world through our actions and our communication, and we affect this world in either a positive or negative way. Clearly, there are people on both sides, though oftentimes blissfully unaware. The problem is, there are some who think they're on one side, but are really on the other. So...which side are you on?....Are you sure...?
A Ritual To Read To Each Other
by William Stafford
If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.
And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
Quote:"...though all our knowledge begins with experience, it by no means follows that all arises out of experience. For, on the contrary, it is quite possible that our empirical knowledge is a compound of that which we receive through impressions, and that which the faculty of cognition supplies from itself (sensuous impressions giving merely the occasion), an addition which we cannot distinguish from the original elementgiven by sense, till long practice has made us attentive to, and skillful in separating it." [Immanuel Kant, from The Critique of Pure Reason, 1781]
Quote:"The farther you enter into the truth, the deeper it is." [Japanese Zen Master Bankei, 1622-1693]
Quote:"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle". [Plato]
Quote:"God is a comic playing to an audience that is afraid to laugh." [Voltaire]
September(2002) Quote:"Physicists long assumed that any experiment performed with matter would give the same result as a corresponding experiment with antimatter. This symmetry is known as charge, or C, symmetry. Similarly, they thought, experiments should be identical even if you swap right and left, up and down, front and back, a property known as parity, or P, symmetry. The strong force, the electromagnetic force, and the gravitational force all obey C and P symmetry. The weak force obeys neither. 'With the weak force, when a neutrino comes out, it has a handedness, a spin', says Cronin. 'Nature is showing a preference: Nature is left-handed.'" [Charles Seife, "Shadowy 'Weak Force' Steps Into the Light", Science, Vol. 297, July 12, 2002, p. 185]
In most mathematical models, symmetry is often a very desirable characteristic; it not only simplifies working equations, but leads to elegant and comfortably intuitive descriptions of reality. Why does symmetry break down for the second weakest of all forces, a force that affects only near-massless neutrinos and quarks at sub-atomic distances? Is all of existence based on an apparent imperfection? Is this subtle, almost imperceptible anti-symmetry responsible for the diversity in the universe? Is that why I'm right-handed?
Quote:"Time, to me, is a nebulous web of existentialist freedom." [Unknown]
This was said by some character on a comedic sitcom sometime in the 80's. I can't remember anything else about it except that it wasn't very good and didn't last very long on tv. Talk about vague...If there's anyone out there who knows the name of that sitcom, please email me! I would imagine winning a billion dollar lottery might be more likely.
Quote:"Well, first remember that our visual processes can work extremely rapidly. The time between requesting information about a part of the visual field and moving the eyes there, getting it, and linking it to a 3-D model is probably usually under half a second. The second thing is, how much of a novel scene can you recall if you look at it only very briefly? Not very much! Its coarse organization, or perhaps one or two details. And once you close your eyes, the richness is gone, isn't it? I think that the richness corresponds to what is available now, at the pure perceptual level, and what you can remember immediately is much more closely related to the 3-D model description that you create for it while your eyes are open." [David Marr, 1982]
Quote:"What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel, in apprehension, how like a god. The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!" [from Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, 1602]
Spock:"Doctor, in your opinion, what killed Mr. Chekhov?"
McCoy: "A piece of lead in his body..."
Spock: "Wrong. His mind killed him.
McCoy: "Well come on Spock! If you've got the answer, tell us!
Spock: "Physical reality is consistent with universal laws. Where the laws do not operate, there is no reality. All of this, is unreal."
McCoy: "What do you mean, unreal? I examined Chekhov. He's dead."
Spock: "But you made your examination under conditions which we cannot trust. We judge reality by the response of our senses. Once we are convinced of the reality of a given situation, we abide by its rules. We judge the bullets to be solid, the guns to be real. Therefore: they can kill."
[ST Episode #56 by production number (ST Episode #60 by air date): Spectre of the Gun, 1968]
This surrealistic Star Trek episode, in my opinion, can be considered to be one of the early precursors of the Matrix...but a matrix with a flaw, enabling Spock to deduce that the world in which they are trapped exists only through their perceptions. Of course, in THE MATRIX, the computer model was sophisticated enough to simulate even the complex laws of chemistry. This is one of my favourite episodes, with all of the elements that I think make Star Trek great. That includes a great scene with Kirk and the Sheriff, in which the Sheriff tries to convince Kirk to ambush and kill the Earps in cold blood. Shatner does a fantastic job of acting, showing his utter disgust at what we can imagine that humanity once was and no longer is in the world of Trek.
Quote:"I placed in front of a window, seen from a room, a painting representing exactly that part of the landscape which was hidden from view by the painting. Therefore, the tree represented in the painting hid from view the tree situated behind it, outside the room. It existed for the spectator, as it were, simultaneously in his mind, as both inside the room in the painting, and outside in the real landscape. Which is how we see the world: we see it as being outside ourselves even though it is only a mental representation of it that we experience inside ourselves." [Rene Magritte, 1933]
Quote:"Our life stands poised at the brink of the abyss of nihility to which it may return at any moment. Our existence is an existence at one with nonexistence, swinging back and forth over nihility, ceaselessly passing away and ceaselessly regaining its existence. This is what is called the incessant becoming of existence. Nihility refers to that which renders meaningless the meaning of life. When we become a question to ourselves and when the problem of why we exist arises, this means that nihility has emerged from the ground of our existence and that our very existence has turned into a question mark. The appearance of this nihility signals nothing less than that one's awareness of self-existence has penetrated to an extraordinary depth." [Keiji Nishitani, 1982]
Quote: "But man is a frivolous and incongruous creature, and perhaps, like a chess player, loves the process of the game, not the end of it. ...In fact, man is a comical creature; there seems to be a kind of jest in it all. But yet mathematical certainty is, after all, something insufferable. Twice two makes four seems to me simply a piece of insolence. Twice two makes four is a pert coxcomb who stands with arms akimbo barring your path and spitting. I admit that twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing too." [Dostoevsky, 1864]
Korby: "I am not a computer! Test me...Ask me to solve any...... equa..... transmit..... Christine!... Christine!... Let me prove myself!... Does this make such a difference?"
Christine: "Don't you see Roger? Everything you've done has proved it isn't you."
Korby: "I AM ROGER KORBY!!"
[ST Episode #10 by production number (ST Episode #7 by air date): What Are Little Girls Made Of?, 1966]
In this Star Trek episode, Dr. Korby is actually a machine that the real Dr. Korby creates just before he dies. As a result, the machine has all of the real Dr. Korby's memories up to the moment of his death. It therefore believes that Dr. Korby's consciousness was actually transferred into the machine, because it believes that it *is* Dr. Korby. This justifies its motive to transfer all of humankind into machines, because it truly believes that consciousness can be transferred and not merely duplicated. You can't help but feel sympathy for a machine that seems to have all the emotions and thoughts of the original human being, yet is not the original human being...we feel sympathy for the machine consciousness just like we would for the original man...is the machine a simple simulation?...can its "consciousness" feel pain?...When rejected by Christine at the end...does it truly feel pain, or does it just simulate it?...
May(2001) Quote: "A man's got to know his limitations." [Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force, 1973]
Quote: "The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms - this knowledge, this feeling, is a the center of true religion."[Albert Einstein, 1930]
Quote: "We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world. Once we have the handful of sand, the world of which we are conscious, a process of discrimination goes to work on it. This is the knife."[Robert M. Pirsig, 1974]
Quote: "...the exploration of the external world by the methods of physical science leads not to a concrete reality but to a shadow world of symbols, beneath which those methods are unadapted for penetrating...To understand the phenomena of the physical world, it is necessary to know the equations which the symbols obey but not the nature of that which is being symbolized."[Sir Arthur Eddington, 1929]
Quote: "The mind, in short, works on the data it receives very much as a sculptor works on his block of stone. In a sense the statue stood there from eternity. But there were a thousand different ones beside it, and the sculptor alone is to thank for having extricated this one from the rest...Other sculptors, other statues from the same stone! Other minds, other worlds from the same monotonous and inexpressive chaos! My world is but one in a million alike embedded, alike real to those who may abstract them."[James, 1890]