Friday, December 14, 2007

quote of the day

"...it's inevitable that we've got to bring out the question of the tragic mixup in priorities. We are spending all of this money for death and destruction, and not nearly enough money for life and constructive development...when the guns of war become a national obsession, social needs inevitably suffer."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Band Name Generator Algorithm

Here is a homework task for you all. Find two words that, when "Googled", don't have Wikipedia show up on the first page of hits. My friend Brian discovered the fact that this is suprisingly difficult, and since then we have each taken the challenge many times...

I have concluded that whatever two words pass the challenge will end up making a pretty darned good band name. Here are my results so far:

Detroit aardvark
Book fart
Justice Amnesia
pascal's drummer
Young Tater
Sandman Junky
shark snark
Boojum Salad

To complete the challenge, make a new wikipedia page for your new band.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

gaijin

Now Herbie Hancock, that is a poet.
The fucker makes notes on the piano rhyme.
Like a stupid-eyed tourist I
wandered through his music for a while,
but the damn notes kept bouncing off my heavy head.

But then, something happened.

I hear Jesus knocked Saul off his horse
with the word of God, and like that
the words started pouring over me
as he ran up the scale and
down in fourths.

The form, the voice, all became apparent;
I wandered blindly, mouth open
like a gaijin who could hear
but not speak.

A perfect night

We met on top of a Cosmic Ridge
where fog poured slowly over the bridge
until the lake was full.
My face turned up to meet the sky and
you had nearly passed me by
when I came back to say goodbye
that night was wonderful.

The silky form of the Milky Way
was a path worn out of the simple way
our ridge had touched the sky;
as you pulled up with your bottle of wine
what touched your lips will soon touch mine
as we succumb to a night divine
on top of a Cosmic ridge.

I've never seen your face in light,
just carved by fire or starry night,
which makes me think that I just might
see you again someday.
For you cannot just be a dream--
for all the crazy ways we seem to meet
I know I'll always now you
cosmically.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A reluctant, and hopefully wrong, prediction

Recently, China has warned the U.S. against hanging out with the Dalai Lama, with the threatening promise of serious repercussions. That's the most ridiculous thing ever.



It adds to the growing mountain of observational evidence (which started with "W" being "elected") for my personal political theory, cockamamie though it may be:

World War III will commence within the next five years and will feature, in one corner, weighing in at a combined weight of one million bazillion pounds, the world heavyweight champion, the "defender of democracy", the "separator of church & state", the "self-proclaimed benevolent superpower", "purveyor of Truth Justice and the American Way":

GI Joe (United States & England, Israel and maybe Germany, Spain, "Iraq", "Afghanistan", India, Japan, Tibet and maybe even Saudi Arabia)

And in the other corner, with a combined weight of just under one million bazillion pounds…the "master of disaster", the "rouge nations", the "divine rulers", the "Axis of Evil":

Cobra (Iran, North Korea, Syria, China, Russia, Turkey and maybe France &Pakistan).

By the end of the war, the United States will galvanize, with the south joining GI Joe, and the north will join Cobra.

I hope I'm wrong. Perhaps only the Red Sox can save us. What do you think?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Power of Eyebrows


One of the more important, if less appreciated, aspects of being a high school physics teacher is drawing sweet diagrams on the board and on tests. It is a medium that few artists have really explored, but it is one that I took very seriously. One lesson that I learned through this exploration was that eyebrows are everything.

Let me demonstrate. Here is a problem that involves a man riding his motorcycle over a cliff. Notice the effect of the direction of the eyebrows. In figure 1, the man is smiling and his eyebrows are up. This implies that the man is uncomfortable with the situation at hand, and may not make it through.



figure 1


A simple switching of the eyebrows can change everything. Compare with figure 2, where the man is still smiling, but his eyebrows are down. This implies that he is a slightly crazy kung fu master, intent on living life by tasting death. He may not make the jump, and therefore succumb to the alligators with African killer bees in their mouths that reside in the pit of unending fire, doom, and despair. But he doesn’t care.



figure 2


I suppose the correct usage of the eyebrows would be to start the man with eyebrows down at the beginning of the jump. Then, if the calculations say that he doesn’t make it, the students could answer by filling in the eyebrows. If he doesn’t make it, the correct solution would be:


Figure 3


If he does make it, the eyebrows could be one up one down, indicating surprise and slight pain in the crotchital area:



figure 4


Nearly the whole range of human emotions can be captured by simply permutating eyebrows, smiles, and frowns. See figure 5 below:

Figure 5

This palette of stick-figure emotion has served me very well in grad school so far. I have found that the answers to most of my physics problems turn out to be a combination of all the possibilities:



Figure 6


Sunday, October 7, 2007

The kidnapping of a flock of birds

I’m going to relate to you a true story of a small but ridiculous nature. It involves the inadvertent kidnapping of a small flock of birds. Or rather, a flock of small birds. It happened at a Seven-Eleven, of all places, the significance of the name of which still eludes scholars. But I digress. One peaceful morning that was almost too quiet, I walked out under the open sky through the streets of D.C. looking for sustenance. There are lots of folks who partake in a similar venture each day, on a more serious level. My search for food had the purpose of sopping up the Jack Daniels that had settled in my stomach, rather than the daily hunger that haunted my bones, but once again I digress. I went in to a local convenience store, got a muffin and a coffee, and stood there underneath the blue sky and its white cloudy freckles. I devoured my muffin in such a way that the crumbs littered the ground, wastefully. I felt bad, but the fight against a hangover is a fight against time, so I persisted. However, the crumbs did not go to waste. Each bite I took, with the rain of manna that it cast upon the ground, was succeeded by the descent of a flock of small birds who hid in a bush nearby. They would descend, and eat, and leave all before the turn of a head or the sip of a hot coffee. These birds were small and meek, cartoon-like in stature. I’m not unconvinced that they weren’t the birds that spontaneously appear to fly around your head after strong contusions. Perhaps they were on a lunch break. Regardless, they took to me like water does a towel. I started to walk away, and they followed. They kept their distance, for sure, but with each bite they would approach and eat the crumbs then recede to a place safely out of reach. I was perplexed, so I even tested this out a few times—I stepped and ate, stepped and ate. They followed and followed. Now came a dilemma. I have to leave. So, do I leave the muffin so the birds can eat in the comfort of their own neighborhood, or do I go on my way and let them go hungry? I decide to leave with the muffin, because Jack Daniels is very persuasive. I thought I had hurt the birds in doing so. However, they just followed me right down the street, eating and retreating, eating and retreating. My own little lamprey eel, in the form of a flock of birds. A symbiotic relationship on the streets of D.C. Bluebirds on my shoulder. I walked all the way to Jeremy’s house, and they followed me nearly all the way. They dispersed with one block to go, flying off in every direction. “My God,” I thought. “I’m doing the same thing to my friends.”

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A brilliant Tom Robbins quote...

The world is a wonderfully weird place, consensual reality is significantly flawed, no institution can be trusted, certainty is a mirage, security a delusion, and the tyranny of the dull mind forever threatens -- but our lives are not as limited as we think they are, all things are possible, laughter is holier than piety, freedom is sweeter than fame, and in the end it's love and love alone that really matters. --Tom Robbins
this is from a fascinating article on writing a children's book about beer. check it out!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Advice

Do something good every day. Something so good that it actually makes you slightly uncomfortable.

The World Below My Feet

There was a time when I could
sense the immensity of the Earth. I could
feel it in my bones.

I remember on one particular occasion I
stared, dumfounded, through the empty night, at the moon.
I, whirling on the edge of the Earth at abstract speeds,
and the moon, standing at attention to the unseen Sun,
an unlikely pair, tonight
we are both so alone.

The Sun was scolding the Moon, while
I hid behind the Earth. My turn
would come in the morning, as
sure as the turning of the Earth.
Damned rotational inertia.
Why do the shadows recede?

Like all aspiring physicists,
for the moment I was able to ignore the air.
The Earth, with no atmosphere and my head
scraping the lower edge of space. I
wondered if it would make a mark there.

On this one particular occasion, I became
conscious of the world below my feet, and the
black empty ocean it swims in.

This world had never felt so
real, so mindless, so
random.

--

if the Sun is a grapefruit in Boston,
Alpha Centauri is an eggplant in Reno—
so much empty space

Something
has to be real,
something has to act.

Something has to produce the
note a jazz musician plays, some strange, spinning
concoction of emotion & chance, spilling energy & control

The molecules that make a man emote
slam the air that
carries the sounds to the
listener’s ear, shakes the listener’s heart
rattling its cup of change.

The solemn listeners nod, fill the room, which is
just a room, in a building, in a city,
on a continent, on a planet, churning lava within,
falling in tandem around a star,
born of a star, born of a star among stars,
born of an explosion that produced,
more than anything,
nothing at all—
nothing
at all.

Writing Drill: Random Poem Generator

Write a poem about (a/an) __________ (first thing that comes to mind)

1. weasel

Of Murder

You have stolen my chickens for the
last time, you bastard weasel. You
have no soul to hang your cap on,
you have no breath remaining.
Your sneaky habits while it’s raining
and chicken coop with blood a-staining,
it’s all over now, my friend.

Your face is frozen in one last sneaky smile,
a mocking grimace crowned with bear trap teeth, not even
death can beat your will, or make you frown.

I hate to taunt you, I hate to kill you
but, my friend, you’ve have had your fill
of dealing death about at will,
slipping down a window sill
just for that old-fashioned thrill
of murder.

There’s the difference—you and I
have no common motives.
I shrink when meeting death,
and you , my friend, you smile.


2. Bathymetry

Your sweet bathymetry

You have a nice bathymetry, my love,
I don’t need a satellite to know it.
Few realize that the seas will rise or fall
depending on what’s below it.
And although at times the waves will slap
the winds that suck and blow it,
I can see your wherewithall,
even though you never show it.

3. foccacia bread

Here we are, in the same old cafe
that we used to sit for hours,
sipping italian coffee and looking around
to see who was watching.

We used to chat about such incredible things,
the politics, the philosophy, the music, the answer
was in the air between our dancing words, though
we never cared to express it.

On our last night there, I consented
to a piece of foccacia bread that I munched
instead of finally telling you
that I loved you.

4. Dreams

How strange and telling
that the word we use
for our innermost wishes
and most important desires
is the same word that we use to name
the random nocturnal firing of neurons
studied in the laboratory for years,
analyzed by philosophers for centuries,
ignored or forgotten by millions each day...
what if I had written it down
instead of rolling back over
and hitting the alarm
one more time.

Lakatos & Feyerabend














Milk & fire,
Beethoven & Mozart
love & lust
trust, faith & regret

Not polar opposites, but just
different enough to really
dig each other.
Like sodium & chlorine
no one can really explain
why they come together-

they've no business doing so, but
still they do.
Electrically they're neutral
But there's something about each one
that the other finds so
dangerous, so preposterous, so ridiculous
that they each move in to take a closer look.

Keep your friends close,
and your enemies
closer.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Cheese & Whiskey

In Frisian, a language spoken in certain unforgiving regions of the Netherlands, the word for 'cheese' is tsiis, pronounced “cheese”. They say this when smiling for a photograph, just like we do in America. I can’t imagine the two regions happened upon this usage independently; one must have influenced the other (or perhaps both emerged from a common source). A more clear case of the spreading of cheese (sorry, bad pun) is in Japan, where it translates to saying “cheesu” for photographs.

The astute reader will realize that the whole point of saying “cheese” for a photo is because it makes you smile. The Japanese, in adopting this ritual, destroy its point; when you say “cheesu” you spend more time going “oo” than “ee”, thereby greatly increasing the chances of looking like an idiot in the picture. This is an example of a strange loop.

A strange loop is something that, through self-reference, destroys its own meaning. For example, take a look at the GIF of the reproduction of the painting of the pipe on the right there. It’s by Magritte who, being French, was very strange indeed (just kidding, all my French readers…Vive le croissant!). The caption says “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” This translates to “This is not a pipe.” On the one hand, you say “What the hell is it then?!” On the other hand, you say “Of course it’s not a pipe…it’s just a representation of a pipe…it’s just blobs of ink on a canvas, and has no inherent meaning.” The kicker is, once you see it that way, you also must agree that the phrase “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” is not really saying “This is not a pipe,” but rather is just more meaningless blobs of paint on the page. So, realizing the true meaning of the phrase destroys its meaning. That’s a strange loop.

The most important of all strange loops, perhaps, is Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem. The basic idea is that Kurt Godel used mathematics to prove that mathematics is either incomplete, or inconsistent. If it’s incomplete, then there are true math equations you can never derive by using math. If math is inconsistent, then there are false mathematical equations that you can actually derive using math consistently. Either way we’re screwed.

Here are some more examples of strange loops:
· Catch 22
· Russell’s paradox
· Throwing out the baby with the bathwater
· Sprint Wireless customer service

There is hope for the portrait photographers of Japan, thanks in part to my dad (Hi Dad!!). There is a grassroots movement to change the word that people say during photographs over there to “Whiskey”. I should have guessed that these confounding strange loop things could be solved by whiskey. I submit, however, that it should be changed to “beer”. Beer makes you smile more, after all. AND, the great philosopher Homer (Simpson) has already taught us that beer is “the cause and solution to all life’s problems”. Oh damn, that’s another strange loop!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Poetry Writing Drills--Suite #1: Get Things Flowing

This is something I put together I while back and just found...sort of advice I wrote for myself about writing. I thought it would be cool if anyone wants to give the drills a shot. Feel free to try them and post any interesting results as a comment...

Get Things Flowing--Writing is about feelings. It is about capturing how you feel about certain persons, places, things, or ideas. These subjects could be out there in the world, in the world you create, or they could be so deep inside you that you almost forget they’re there. The feelings you describe could be the essence of your personality, or they could surprise you when they come out. Or they could be made up because they sound nice, but I think the best writing comes from real feelings. But feelings come from the heart, not the head, in a sense. If you have to think about something, it becomes a thought, not a feeling.

For that reason, you should at least start off by writing quickly, before you have to time to think about the words coming out. You want to start by getting the pure feelings out there as the canvas, and then use your mind to revise and organize in a way that best presents them. As Forrester says in that cheesy movie, “Write with your heart, revise with your head.”

These drills are designed to practice getting the feelings flowing. Later you will practice controlling the rhythm and the form, but for now don’t worry about these things. The idea is to do these drills quickly, stream of consciousness. Whatever pops up, write it down without hesitation. They may come out as word associations, but whatever. The point is to get the channels open for traffic.

1. Quickly write down your 10 greatest and deepest fears

2. Quickly write down your 10 greatest fantasies

3. Quickly write down 3 things you hope nobody knows about you

4. Quickly write down 4 things you wish people knew about you

5. Quickly write down the names of 5 people you find to be the most interesting.

6. Write a poem about at least one thing mentioned above.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Does Everything Happen for a Reason, or a Purpose?

What is the question?
This is an important question…perhaps the important question…and boy, is it a doosy. But that’s what makes it so much fun to think about…

First I would like to clarify some terminology here. I think that when people ask the question, they really mean ‘Does everything happen for a purpose?’ which is a religious or spiritual question. Whether or not everything happens for a reason, on the other hand, seems to be more of a question for science or philosophy. Both are interesting, important questions. Perhaps they are connected somehow, but for now I would like to consider them separately.

Does Everything Happen for a Reason?
As an aspiring scientist with a realist and perhaps coherentist epistemology, I would like to think that the answer to that is yes. In fact, I would like to think of science as the search for explanation—the search for reasons. Why did the apple fall from the tree? For Newton, the reason was the force of gravity (working in tandem perhaps with the wind to knock it loose). For Einstein, the reason was the curvature of spacetime. In many cases, the art of physics seems to be the art of creatively finding the reasons that things happen in the physical world. Given the laws of physics and the initial conditions, the apple was bound to fall. A physicist gets paid to search either for the laws or for the initial conditions (or a little of both). When they have both, they have found an explanation to the natural phenomenon.

Are you sure??
This view that everything happens for a reason, which I hold dearly, has some serious challenges. I cannot respond to all of them, which scares me. There are two main branches of physics that challenge the proposition in different ways—one attacks our knowledge of the initial conditions, the other of the very laws themselves.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955), (attributed)

Chaos theory threatens our ability to find the reasons behind things. ‘Chaos’ is defined in physics-ese as an extremely sensitive dependence on the initial conditions…therefore, for some things (like the weather & the stock market) we can never do the same thing over and over to test whether we have found the reasons behind it. However, there are patterns among the chaos that allow us to test them slightly more holistically; hence the ‘theory’ part of chaos theory.

Quantum mechanics presents us with a much more serious threat to believing things happen for a reason. In quantum mechanics, we can do the exact same things over and over, and the results are always different! All we can do sometimes is give the probabilities of an electron taking a certain path, and it is the probabilities that follow strict laws & equations. Take nuclear decay (please!). We can never predict exactly when a uranium atom will decay, but we can tell that it will have a really good chance of decaying after a certain time. Put another way, there is no reason for it to decay at any particular time. Einstein didn’t like quantum mechanics for this reason (among others), and famously quipped, “God does not play dice with the universe.” Well, Alby, I hate to say it but it seems like you were wrong about this one! Perhaps the most troubling aspect is when you realize that our everyday world is composed of these inherently random particles that do not obey simple cause and effect.

I have a hope, however, that reasons can emerge out of these little things that don’t abide by reason. For example, you are built out of about 10 trillion cells; each cell is its own living organism, but none of them are ‘you.’ None of them even know who ‘you’ are! It is through their myriad ‘you-less’ interactions that you emerge (fortunately for you). Likewise, perhaps everything in our macroscopic, everyday world can still happen for a reason, even though our everyday world is built out of a strange, reasonless quantum world. That’s my two cents, anyway.

Does everything happen for a purpose?
Like the previous question, I’m very conflicted on this. On the one hand, I want to answer with an emphatic “yes!” I feel it in my bones. It certainly seems like life is taking me on some sort of path…there seems to be some sort of grand plan. One of my first major results of grad school was proving that god exists…I proved this by finding a Dunkin’ Donuts on my way to school;)

On the other hand, and more seriously, I want to scream “NO!!” when I think about things like the Holocaust and senseless murder. What could possibly be the purpose behind such things?? I tend to think that no moral god could ever condone such atrocities, let alone build them right into His/Her plan.

Clearly, I have no qualifications to answer this question. It may be the biggest one of all. But you may like to hear the solution that sticks to my ribs these days. I think it may be sort of the opposite of emergence (‘de-mergence?’). On a large scale, there is no such thing as a grand plan. But on an individual level, it makes a lot of sense. It may be like being in love: by believing it, you make it true. In my mind, this does not belittle the notion of ‘purpose’ in the least. It makes it more real than anything.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Erratum: Maryland is NOT totally lame

The weirdness of quantum mechanics arises from the fact that when you make an observation, your results tell you just as much about what you're looking at as they tell you about who is looking and how. That being said, my criticism of Maryland revolved around my frustrations with the ridiculous traffic situation, which is indicative of the fact that as soon as I step into my car I become an impatient Masshole.

I wish to take this opportunity to paint a more fair picture of Maryland, not just how I see it through the windshield. So, I give you:

10 Things I Love about Maryland:

#10 Chipotle. Some say their burritos are three bites too big. I completely agree…but sometimes too much is just enough.

#9 Starbucks. I'm not one for big chains…but I love being able to go for a brief walk and get an iced coffee at each and every corner.


#8 Water Polo. Learning to play water polo is actually a requirement for graduation from Maryland public schools.


#7 Big Sky. I was having withdrawal from the ocean, when I realized it was above me the whole time. I don't know why, the sky just seems bigger in Maryland.

#6 Political Discussions. Since it surrounds our nation's capital, the state of Maryland is much more in tune with the goings on of our fearless leaders. In Boston, the chaotic weather provides the baseline for small talk in any situation. In Maryland, it is the chaotic political climate that serves that function.

#5 Street Signs. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts does not like drivers to know where they are at any given time. It's in the state constitution, look it up. This is carried out in part by not putting any street signs for the road your on. In addition, they only put street signs on the cross streets when they find it will enhance confusion. For example, in Roxbury I once found myself at the corner of Columbus and Columbus. Maryland is much nicer in this regard. They figure, if your going to be stuck somewhere for extended periods of time (due to construction) you might as well know where the heck you are.

#4 Just Enough Winter. In certain areas of the country, they look to the groundhog to tell them how much longer winter will be in session. In Boston they don't bother with such superstitions, because every citizen knows that, at any given time, there are always three more months of winter. In Maryland, you only get just enough snow to make it pretty. And it's fun to watch everybody freak out when it happens. In Boston, I would have to dig out my car (see picture) to get to school. In Maryland school is cancelled if anyone even thinks the word snow. As a side note, the Japanese word for snow is "yuki" (thanks, Yoshino!)

#3 The Salad Bowl. Boston is very ethnically and racially clumpy. Far from being "a great melting pot", it is more like a T.V. dinner, with the meat, tater tots, green beans, and applesauce all neatly separated. Maryland is a lot more like a salad bowl, with lots of interesting folks all mixed in together, contributing to the overall flavor. I dig it.

#2 Crabs. In Boston, it takes about three years of intense training, culminating in an associate's degree, to learn how to eat a lobster. The process is nearly as complicated, and equally as sensitive, as neurosurgery. Each lobster takes approximately 2 hours to eat, if it is done correctly. In Maryland, they do it right: a pitcher of beer, a bucket of crabs, and a wooden mallet. Hulk smash!! I love it.

#1 The People. At first I must say I was disappointed at the lack of Mary's in the supposed Land of Mary's (I've only met one person named Mary). After that brief initial disappointment, I realized that the Mary and all the non-Mary's I have met have been totally awesome. And I have solved the mystery of the missing Mary's: Everyone in Maryland is required to have their middle name be Mary. It's in the state constitution, check it. Would I lie?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Conquest of Maryland

A little known historical fact is that William the Conqueror, upon landing on the shores of England in 1066, fell flat on his face. His first mate dressed it up a bit when he described William as "falling into an embrace with his new country". Within a few months, William had conquered England, which enabled him to change his nickname to William the Conqueror (in middle school it had been William the Geek).


Well, I didn't fall flat on my face, but upon entering Maryland for the first time, my car overheated. By comparison with William, I had calculated that within about 3 months Maryland would be under my complete control. After a year, I regret to report that it is taking longer than I thought. Regardless, I figured this would be a good time to reflect on the year, and especially to report some of my thoughts on this Land of Mary's...




Overall, as a state Maryland kinda sucks. I give it a 4 out of ten. (this is the state, not the people nor the school mind you...) Below I review what I perceive to be Maryland's weakest points, which I intend to fix when I become king in a few more months...


#1--Awkward Speed
Have you ever been driving on the highway, and the car in front of you is going just a smidge too slow for your own comfort, but just a hair too fast for you to pass, and so you are either stuck behind them in an awkward state of cruising/stepping on the brake, else you try to pass them and awkwardly drive right next to them for an extended period of time? I call this "awkward speed". One of the first things I noticed upon moving to Maryland is that approximately every man, woman and child in Maryland moves at the awkward speed at all times.


#2--Government Control
I may risk my life in telling you this, but I have started to uncover a frightening covert plot being carried out by certain higher-ups to control the people of Maryland--using traffic lights. What else could possibly explain their complete ridiculousness, other than an evil plot? I first became aware of this secret control when I found that I spend most of my waking life sitting at traffic light...even when I'm not in a car! Maryland's Department of Transportation seems to take special delight at having major 4-lane highways meet in four way intersections about every 400 yards. And they have transformed each four way intersection, using an ingenious system of left-turn only arrows, right-turn only arrows, pedestrian-only signals, and pedestrian-with-shopping-cart-only signals, into a 16-way intersection. I have seriously counted up the I time spend, per day, at an intersection where literally no cars are going. It adds up to about 8 hours each day.


#3--Construction
The construction companies are operating in conjunction with government officials in the secret plot to control each Marylander using traffic lights. The first piece of evidence: every intersection in Maryland is under construction. Upon entering the intersection on the four-lane major highway, the left lane is closed off first with big orange barrels. What is happening in the left lane that they need to close it off with barrels? Nothing. Apparently it is a 'buffer zone' for the construction happening on the other side of the intersection. The next lane to close off is the right lane. This is done solely to prevent anyone from being able to escape the intersection by taking a right turn on red. Now we're down to the middle two lanes...the one on the left is taken up by people selling roses and people asking donations to go to poor South American countries to teach them manners (I know this may be starting to sound ridiculous, but I guarantee that it is all 100% true). This leaves one lane, which is taken up by broken down public buses. The only reason I ever get anywhere in Maryland is because, as a physics graduate student, I have mastered the art of quantum tunneling.



There you have it, the three main weaknesses of the state of Maryland. If all goes according to my plan, I will exploit these Achilles' heels to create leverage for me to complete my government coup. I will report back to you when I am appointed supreme-dictator-for-life. Give me at least three more months.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Lessons by the ocean



I have learned a couple of important lessons this weekend in Boston, as per usual by listening to the ocean. I don't know what it is, but I feel a great resonance whenever I am near a large body of water. I feel there is so much wisdom within there somehow. My truest moments seem to come when I am alone by the seashore, open to the world. The first pure thought I had came when I was pondering my decisions over the past year. I have made some really interesting ones, for sure. Some have been made my life a little sweeter, and some much more sour. But it is important not to dwell on such things, it can only bring anguish. You cannot make good decisions, nor can you make bad ones. The only thing you can do is to make your decisions good or bad. Their prudence is determined by you, the decisionmaker, after the fact, in how you subsequently let them into the life you lead …how you incorporate them into your journey. That was lesson #1.

The other lesson I learned when I stopped by the sea to talk to my main man Paul on the phone. It was night, and the street lights cast their light over the black ocean and its grey waves. While I was talking, I was staring at that light cast over the water, while a huge shadow passed through the light. The shadow was enormous in stature, it must have laid nearly a quarter mile over the waves. When I looked up to find the source, I found it was just a man walking in front of the streetlight. No matter who you are, how small or meager or humble, your effect on the world can be much larger than you can ever imagine.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

What are we playing?

Are we filling out a cosmic crossword puzzle, or is it existential scrabble?

Does Science Lead to Truth?
As an aspiring scientist, I like to think that science leads to truth. But then I know that Newton's theory of gravity was, in a sense, completely conceptually overthrown by Einstein's theory of gravity. For Newton, gravity was a force that prevent the apple from its natural state of motion of remaining at rest, thus making it fall onto his noggin. For Einstein, the Newton's noggin was the force preventing the apple from its natural state of falling. In order to make this switch, Einstein described gravity not as a force, but as the curvature of space and time. At some point in the future, it is conceivable that Einstein's theory of gravity will go over a complete conceptual makeover. Do we ever have the truth?

Does Science Even Approach the Truth?
Perhaps the next best thing to having truth is getting closer and closer to the truth. Is that what science is doing? I always liked to think so, but after reading Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions this naive view was challenged. Kuhn was a physicist who was forced by his superiors to teach a course on the history of science. He found himself completely bored with it, until he studied the original texts so closely that he understood them as a gestalt switch. Is the picture a duck, or is it a bunny? Was Galileo right in describing the pendulum as friction ruining the ideal periodic motion, or was Aristotle right in describing the pendulum as a string ruining the ideal falling motion? Kuhn, at least in his earlier days, that neither was any more right than the other. In fact, we can't even compare what Galileo meant by "pendulum" with what Aristotle meant by the same word--the two are incommensurable. The switch from Aristotle's views to Galileo's views are not a switch from 'wrong' to 'less-wrong'...it is more like the switch from 'duck' to 'bunny'.

Does Science Construct the Truth?
My gut still tells me that science progress towards the truth in some sense. For a long time, I have imagined this as filling out a great, cosmic crossword puzzle. Perhaps our observations are the clues, and we figure out what to put in the boxes. We can never be completely sure we have put in the right word, but when it connects with more and more words we can become more and more sure that we have the right words in there. When the crossword puzzle is complete, we must have done something right! Maybe one or two words are wrong, but the gist of the puzzle has to be correct. You might call this a 'coherentist epistemology'.

The other day it occurred to me that perhaps we are not playing a cosmic crossword puzzle at all...maybe we are playing Scrabble. Maybe there are no clues and we are just making up the words and fitting them with other words we have made up. Does that have to make them less true??