Category Archives: My Bookshelf ~ Current times

Religion, philosophy, and anthropology, current events

A book review ~ sort of.

When Bad things

Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, currently published by Anchor Books. available for less than $10.00

One of the things that one must do when preparing a book proposal to market your masterpiece to the publishing world is find comparables in the market. What’s out there, what does it say, and why is your work different. In that process, I read Rabbi Kushner’s best seller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. The title has sold millions, and although I don’t aspire to such heights, I do feel there is much in his work I would agree with, and a few things I don’t.

I can understand why the Rabbi’s book has reached so many people. He builds on the interpretation that there are random events in the world, events that are caused by other people’s freedom of action, and events that we are unprepared for. He strongly believes that we should not be Job’s visitors and try to comfort those who are suffering with some unfounded bit of wisdom about how this will make the victim stronger, or God has a message, or some other bit that rarely helps. Sometimes, such ministrations make the whole matter much worse. In this I agree, at least in part.

Kushner also devotes much of his book to the idea that we must step away from the blame game. Everything that happens in our lives is not punishment by some super-spy deity that wants to ensure we pay for every infraction we have ever committed, whether the reasons are known or not. If I had to decide, one of the most critical ideas he presents in this book is to stop the blame. The universe does not turn on your every decision and sometimes you are not guilty of initiating some horrible outcome. Sometimes you are. Those instances should, however, be clear and correctable. Don’t blame God for lung cancer if you insist on smoking.

Although this thought is not discussed in his book, I believe it gave me some insight to some of the issues we are facing in society now. We are told, in scripture, to love one another as we love ourselves. On the flip side, if we are always blaming ourselves, if we believe that every bad thing that happens is punishment for something we, or someone else, did – then we must assume that folks that are in deep poverty, sick, or otherwise challenged did something to deserve it. And that’s what we do. If she had dressed differently, if he had not let people know he was gay, if he had prayed harder, if she had given more, if they had better control over their children, and a thousand other reasons why “that thing” happened to them and not us. If we do manage to escape the consequences of a catastrophe, we are somehow especially blessed and protected by God. I must ask – does that make you better than me? If I die in a plane crash and you don’t, are you somehow more holy?

This was the problem with Job’s visitors (I can’t come to a place I can call them comforters), they could not allow the world to be a random place where God’s justice and power did not reach into every detail of every life. To avoid the thought of calamity in their own lives, they had to find reason to blame Job for his.

To return to Kushner’s book, from a pastoral perspective, he does a masterful job of teaching people to let go of the anger. Anger at themselves, at others, at God, and to find some way to move forward. His position is that God is not in the event, He is the one that helps us find a way to deal with the consequences. He is there to help us convert the bad into something we can take forward. The Rabbi is not a stranger to calamity. He wrote the book to help others understand the journey he and his wife experienced as they watched their first born suffer from an incurable disease that killed him at age fourteen. He knows what it means to ask why.

Here are some excerpts I considered very much to the point:

“If we want to be able to pick up the pieces of our lives and go on living, we have to get over the irrational feeling that every misfortune is our fault, the direct result of our mistakes or misbehavior. We are really not that powerful. Not everything that happens in the world is our doing.”

One of the hardest lessons of children who have been abused in any way is, “It’s not my fault.” I would add, we need to learn the same of others. We can assess responsibility and still avoid being judgmental of other people’s choices. Learn the difference.

“If we believe in God, but we do not hold God responsible for life’s tragedies, if we believe that God wants justice and fairness but cannot always arrange for them, what are we doing when we pray to God for a favorable outcome to a crisis in our life?”

The Rabbi is very much against the “grocery list” prayer and chooses to teach an approach where we seek the strength to move through the disaster, where we find ways to accept the good or the bad outcome, without blaming persons or forces that are not responsible. If they are responsible, is it a situation that must be dealt with, was it an accident, can you move from the hurt, and even hatred? How do you release the anger so that you do not destroy yourself in the process? That is the space where Kushner feels God lives. The sum of his work teaches that suffering finds its meaning not in the why it happened, but in the what we do with it.

“God does not cause our misfortunes. Some are caused by bad luck, some are caused by bad people, and some are simply an inevitable consequence of our being human and being mortal, living in a world of inflexible natural laws. The painful things that happen to us are not punishments for our misbehavior, nor are they in any way part of some grand design on God’s part. Because the tragedy is not God’s will, we need not feel hurt or betrayed by God when tragedy strikes. We can turn to Him for help in overcoming it, precisely because we can tell ourselves that God is as outraged by it as we are.”

As noted, there is much here that is a part of my view. However, Redefining Job and the Conundrum of Suffering takes the reader in a slightly different direction. Rather than surrender to a belief that all is random and there is no cause, I prefer to see the universe with a sense of the quantum. Quantum physics works because predictable results occur. We do have a universe of laws. We do have probabilities that are within our purview to discover, to understand, to mitigate. To me the author of Job is trying to tell us that we are given the gifts to change the world. We do not live in a vacuum of circumstance, and we are not pursued daily by a vengeful god. Bad things happen, and they will continue to do so. The question is, what do we in response?

I like this bit that Kushner includes in his book. It is a Likrat Shabbat prayer by Rabbi Jack Riemer.

We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end war;
for we know that You have made the world in a way
That man must find his own path to peace
Within himself and with his neighbor.

We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end starvation;
For you have already given us the resources
With which to feed the entire world.
If we could only use them wisely.

We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to root out prejudice,
For You have already given us eyes
With which to see the good in all men
If we would only use them rightly.

We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end despair,
For you have already given us the power
To clear away slums and to give hope
If we would only use our power justly.

We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end disease,
For you have already given us great minds with which
To search for cures and healing.
If we would only use them constructively.

Therefore, we pray to You instead, O God,
For strength, determination, and willpower,
To do instead of just to pray,
To become instead of merely to wish.

Plan a visit with me and my hero, Job. We’ll be ready very soon.

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Voting ~ and what it means to you

This is NOT a blog about who to vote for. I do NOT expect to change people’s minds on whether or not they should vote for any specific candidate. What I DO wish to accomplish is to provide food for thought. If there are races in which you feel compelled to withhold your vote, I want you to find the ones you can commit to. Somewhere, there is a race that you can research, that you can determine a choice, I don’t care if it is the local dog-catcher. It’s a long term plan, people. But if we don’t start now…

I have been wanting to write a blog about voting for some time now. Problem is, the history of voting might require something of a tome and that is not what blogs are for. The best way to say what I feel is important is to choose some aspect of that history and go from there. I chose the movie Suffragette as a starting point for a number of reasons that will become clear.

Suffragette

According to the Washington Post, the movie is based on some of the historical elements of the struggle British women faced in and about 1912-1913. Definitions are in order, a Suffragette is a member of the suffrage movement that advocated action, often involving violence of some kind. A Suffragist was a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and they advocated using the political and social system to achieve their goal. Although the Suffragettes brought much needed attention to the issue, it was the latter organization that finally won the vote for British women in 1918. The Union’s membership included men who were of the opinion that it was far past time to involve the other half of humanity in the process of governing the people. Why?

In the early 1900s a woman in British society rarely had the barest of rights. Her employer controlled her from the time she began work (usually in her teens) until she died. It was not uncommon for these men to demand personal service as well as that required in the factory. A woman had no right of consent over her children. Should her husband dismiss her, their children were his to do with as he pleased, including surrendering them for adoption. Many women were abused. They had no avenue of regress. On the other side of the coin, persons who hold the right to define government have difficulty equating those who don’t as equals: whether the difference is gender, or race. Women were, in large part, merely possessions; whatever made them think they had the cognitive ability to vote?

It was not until August 18, 1920, that the United States followed Britain by ratifying the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. This was a long battle that became a more organized effort as early as 1848 when women’s suffrage was organized at the national level by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucrecia Mott. Included in their platform (as it was in Britain) was the right to better opportunities for women in education and employment. This was no light undertaking. Women, and men, died to support the effort. Some in prison, some in riots or protests. Some women were simply beaten by the men in their lives.

After a great deal of sacrifice, the movement began to have success at the state level as Alaska (Territory), Arizona, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota and Washington all established suffrage for women between 1910 and 1918.

Another long battle ensued in the United States over the voting rights of blacks. It was not until the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the right to vote was secured by law. There are still legal battles that include practices such as gerrymandering, various levels of testing, and onerous forms of identification. Voting is not a settled matter in this country; those who wish to take responsibility for the selection of the government and the manner in which they govern still have a fight.

Why is this all so terribly important? There are many forms of the thought that a people deserves the government they receive. In some ways this is not true. Once a ruling class is established, the fee to join the club is usually beyond the common person and, therefore, not as easily changed by those with vision. However, there is a piece of the puzzle that does fall within the control of every-day folk. It starts at the local level.

The people we see in power today did not start there. In most cases, their career started at the local level as a council-person, a mayor, a local representative, a state elected official. Rarely does a candidate come out of the clear blue with no public service background. The way to change the available choices is to begin at that level where you can have a personal connection with the individual and truly assess what they can contribute to the community as a whole. It comes from watching how they handle what is happening in your community and how they represent the interests of those that depend on them.

I sincerely want people to vote their conscience – really. But I also want them involved. If you don’t like the way your preferred party selects candidates: be part of the change. If you are frustrated with the choices: think about being one yourself, or banding with others to encourage someone you think would be a good choice. Become involved in your destiny; participate in the process that impacts your life. Too many people have given too much for the privilege; don’t throw it away.

I have attached a document with a link to the voting information for voting and elections in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. This is for your convenience so you can look up who is running in your state for what. Don’t go with the Facebook version of the campaign, research those that interest you. Make an effort to be a contributing member in the process.

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Reflections ~ How we think.

This is an exploring post. I have only just begun to read the things necessary to build these concepts in my own mind, but I so wanted to share what I have found. So, here we be in our own quiet alcove, discussing the workings of the mind, again. These are really important ideas, so join me for the hunt – a hunt for how we think and why it matters.

In the process of finishing my manuscript on the Book of Job, I have been researching what makes us tick. Why do we perceive an event, a person, a situation as we do? What is it that makes us believe that we are accurate in our assumptions and interpretations? Is there a way that we can test those assumptions and conclusions while still believing that we are right – and, perhaps, most of the rest of the world is wrong?

I have recently started a hashtag on Facebook, #BreakTheBox. I did this because I like to challenge commonly held presumptions. Not always because I think they are wrong, in whole or in part, but because I firmly believe that whatever you believe, you should know why you believe. That is very hard work – and here is the reason why.

Thnking

I am currently reading Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. Professor Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2002 for his work on decision making. Along with his research partner, Amos Tversky, he revolutionized what we know about how we think, how we make decisions. Professor Tversky would have shared the prize, if he had still been living.

Here are the basics. Our perceptions of subconscious and conscious thought go far deeper than what we may expect. Kahneman uses terms fairly common in the field; System 1 (the subconscious) and System 2 (the conscious). How these two systems interact is the basis of everything we do and think – everything. That makes it critical to understand that interaction if you truly want to be the master of your fate, the owner of your mind.

System 1 is the quick thinker. By accumulating all of the information that you are in contact with, the things your senses bring to you, and sorting through that sea of data to arrive at – what makes you comfortable, what feels right. As you can see, this is the basis of our intuitive thought. It is an efficient way for our brains to work because it happens quickly and, for the most part, the reactions are based on past experience. It also allows us to make seemingly instantaneous decisions for our own safety or well-being – such as flight or fight choices.

This is also, at times, an unreliable decision-making process. It can be influenced by such things as presentation of the data (was it in a clear font with soothing colors and using grammar in the comfort zone of the reader). Or, how often the data, or something similar, is encountered. Such as a surprise meeting in one location being less surprising the second time in a different location. System 1 is all about averaging things out and making quick decisions based on, well, gut.

Although not strictly statistical in its processes, for the sake of efficiency, this System 1 also relies on a short-hand version of the data. For instance, in the drafting of a bell curve (natural distribution), once the information regarding probability is acquired, our mind locks on to the higher probabilities and ignores the possibilities. So, once we determine that the incarceration rate of young black men in American is statically higher than whites, Asians or Hispanics, we assume that ALL young black men are prison candidates. Consequently, when events happen in the conscious world, our decisions are guided by a presumption made on incomplete data. This becomes an even stronger influence as we gravitate to information that reinforces what we already know, beliefs and interpretations that are within our comfort zone.

Kahneman describes System 1 as highly associative. It links bits of data to previous information and then builds on that link, whether or not there is a clear correlation. In one example he mentions a test question asking the reader if a man who is described as quiet, introspective, and a loner would most likely be a farmer or a librarian. Statistically, there is an overwhelming response that this is a librarian. Here’s the catch. In my mind it was the farmer. Why? I know both, but I am as familiar with farmers as I am with librarians and so I had a wider associative memory on which to base my assessment. Statistically, there are more farmers than librarians meaning that the probability is higher that the person described is a farmer. That, however, is something that System 2 must discover.

This is not a condemnation of our subconscious mind. This is how our minds are built and it works this way to be efficient with the resources at hand. Here, then, is the catch. Unless you want to be guided by your over-reactive, intuitive subconscious, you need to more actively pursue thinking with System 2. This takes work and our minds are notoriously lazy — they like to find the easy way out. And it does not matter how intelligent the thinker is. There are also physiological reasons why our conscious minds cannot maintain a constant level of focused attention. What, then, is the answer?

We can engage in reprogramming our subconscious. This doesn’t mean we have to question each and every thought and impulse. What it does mean is that we should actively pursue the verification of the associative influence on which our decisions are made. When we hear something that seems right, we should try to understand why this is so. Have we actually thought about the logical end result of our decision or association? How much dis-information is shared on social networks without verification because the piece at least sounds like what the person wants to hear?

To give you food for thought, I leave you with this:

Roses are flowers.
Some flowers fade quickly.
Therefore some roses fade quickly.

Well, maybe, maybe not… Some roses might fade quickly, but the presumptions detailed here which led to that conclusion are not directly related; and therefore, not a basis to decide. You see, the fading flowers might not be roses…

Rose dl

Photo Credit: JM Randolph, WANA Commons, Flickr

#BreakTheBox

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Review ~ Where did it Begin?

Origins, A Skeptic’s Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth by Robert Shapiro, less than $10

Origins

Science: knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation. (Merriam Webster)

Seems simple enough. The field of science is something that we know and learn through watching and testing. Predicting things that should happen and then running experiments to see if that is, indeed, what happens. This is why, even though science has its own battles with dogma and conflicting theories, there comes a time when it self-corrects. When the data and the predictability come together and we have what we can call knowledge.

And I love to watch that process. Some of my heroes are physicists, well, maybe a lot of them. People like Michio Kaku, Sean Carrol, Brian Greene, Steven Hawking and so many others that look at the universe as a great big romper room waiting to be discovered. Some evidence hints of faith, some shake their heads with a shrug and a whatever. But they all pursue truth as best they can wherever it leads them. And they don’t get in a twist when questioned. They operate in a field where everything they know may be turned on its head with the next discovery so they research and build and test with whatever tools they have. I have longed for the same kind of dialog in the biological sciences.

One of the reasons I chose this book was because I wanted to know just where we were in the field of evolutionary biology. The book is dated. Copyrighted in 1986 it lacks the progress made for nearly 30 years and that is a lot of time in science. There are many lines of inquiry presented in the book that I would (and probably will) follow up on in order to see what progress we have made. For instance, in 2009 John Sutherland and his team at the University of Manchester were able to synthesize the basic ingredients of RNA. Whether or not the process followed could occur naturally is still, of course, being researched.

The point is that there are as many unsolved issues in the field of evolutionary biology as there are in physics. Maybe more. Who’s to know? The frustrating thing is that questions about this science are often met with derision and comments about myths vs. science. But that isn’t the reason I’m asking.

I liked this book because Shapiro walks through the science of where we have been and where we were as of that time and why some of the things appeared to work and some were, well, just not getting us there. Just to be clear, we do know a great deal about how lifeforms change and modify based on the environment and the needs of everything from climate to culture. We can show how some things evolve and we are deep into research about the story our DNA tells about the past. No, we don’t have all the answers and that’s the point, isn’t it? Science is science when the same, predictable result can be duplicated by someone else with consistency. Self-correcting.

Shapiro steps through the history of our search for that spark that started non-organic chemicals down the path to life. Yes, he discusses the history of conflicts between Creationism and Science on the issue but he does not do it in a manner to disparage faith. He only wants to present what makes science and what is required to test a theory. He was, actually, not all that sold on the ruling paradigm at the time the book was written, leaning more in the direction of a minority opinion on what started the engine. It certainly was interesting reading a text that was looking forward to some of the advances we have made in the past 30 years by visiting Mars with the rovers, as well as the moons of Jupiter and Saturn with our probes.

Is it important that we one day find the scientific roots of our creation? I actually do believe so. Ever since man could think he has sought knowledge about the whys and hows of his existence. He has wondered about his place in the universe from both an egocentric and an insignificant-mite point of view. We are creatures, creations, of reason. Capable of looking out at the place we find ourselves and wondering. There must be a reason, from somewhere or someone, we became so. If you are a believer, in something or someone, most of the ancient scriptures I have seen admonish the faithful to seek knowledge, to learn, to observe the place in which we find ourselves and to grow in wisdom.

Check out Mr. Shapiro. He is not afraid to challenge the science of the day or to ask questions about what we know and why. He may help you put some of those pieces in place.

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Reviews – or is it a reflection? Pleasantville and Nietzsche

Pleasantville (1998). A classic example of metaphor in art. The standard interpretation of the piece written, produced and directed by Gary Ross is that it was a metaphor of the sixties. America was leaving behind the Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver paradigms of the 50s and launching full speed ahead into the sexual revolution and peacenik philosophy of the 60s crowned by such shows as Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Okay, I get that. After all, I was there. It was a time when we transitioned from collectively looking the other way when Marilyn Monroe sang happy birthday to the President (May of 1962) to the cultural “freedom” of opening our homes and our bedrooms, to public view – and criticism. Happy Days and Opie consigned to the archives and re-run channels; enter South Park.

There are also the more personal interpretations. Moments of personal change such as when Betty Parker (the quintessential 50s mom) makes the decision to stop hiding the fact she is now in full Technicolor and refuses to use her grayscale makeup to hide it. Or when Mr. Daniels discovers color as an art form and refuses to give it up, even in the face of town statutes. The struggle to seek personal integrity even in the face of prejudice, conflict, and self-doubt.

Watching the movie for the first time in recent weeks, I saw these interpretations; and much more. To me this film was a kaleidoscope of thought provoking moments that went far beyond the superficial presentation of “sexual freedom” and “civil disobedience.” This was most evident in the change brought about in Jennifer/Mary Sue. The most promiscuous individual in the whole story remains stubbornly grayscale until she finds her real passion, literature. Her conversion takes place as she reads from D. H. Lawrence. An author who was considered controversial in the 50s as he confronted many of the underlying themes in the movie. She becomes so impassioned she remains in the Pleasantville universe to attend college. Or, David/Bud remaining grayscale until he ends up in a fight protecting his “mother” from harassment.  It was not all about free sex, free speech, and open rebellion. It was about finding that thing which filled the individual with enough passion to become the deliberate vehicle of change.

How then does all of that relate to Nietzsche?

Because Nietzsche had this thing about suffering. Grant it, his view was elitist. He was quite certain that suffering only made sense for those already strong and healthy and was little more than a deep abyss for those who were not. On this I disagree. For a moment, let’s paint Pleasantville with a different brush, one from Nietzsche’s studio.

Pleasantville was the perfect place to live. The greatest emergency was a cat stuck in a tree and no one ever showed up late for dinner or work. The basketball team never lost. No one was jealous, felt left out or failed at school. It was, quite frankly, what many of us pray for. Unrelenting peace and serenity, no challenges, losses or regrets. The inhabitants lived in a world so protected that they could not even imagine the thought of “somewhere else.” A condition many practice in real life even if they choose not to admit it. Segue to Nietzsche.

Within a number of Nietzsche’s writings we are introduced to his idea of suffering and what it means in the context of being human. In his view mankind, most particularly those of Christian Europe towards the end of the 19th century, was a mass of sickly worms with visions of greatness, but no capacity to reach it. Though he is saddled with the misnomer of being the father of Nazi philosophy, he would have abhorred the result. In Genealogy of Morals he states, “Do we really need to see in him ‘the spawn of an insane hatred of knowledge, mind and sensuality’ (as someone once argued against me)? A curse on the senses and the mind in one breath of hate?” Although not particularly enamored of the “masses,” he was a man that would have fought against any force that selectively suppressed knowledge, passion, and intellectual freedom on any level.

Shall we return to Pleasantville, the land of the perfect and home of the – uninspired? Nietzsche is not, of course, the first philosopher that reserves the true intellectual advance of mankind to some elite group. It is an all too common point of view. In my research for my manuscript on the book of Job I have found many and will, most likely find more. There is, however, a fundamental truth to his perspective.  Again from Genealogy of Morals, “but suffering itself was not [man’s] problem, but the fact that there was no answer to the question he screamed, ‘Suffering for what?” We are not afraid of suffering, we are afraid there is no reason.

The lesson of Pleasantville as I see it is that we can choose to paint our lives, our world, and our universe, with the grayscale-brush of protected perfection. Resting in the assurance that the mystery of the why and wherefore is not for us to understand, but to endure. Except – well – we live in a Technicolor universe. If we are to be all that we can be as individuals, as a race, as a representative of what the creative power of life itself can accomplish – we have to accept the consequences of passion. We must embrace the reality of the ever-changing relationship between what was, what is and what will be. Suffering is every bit a part of being human. An essential part that makes us the creators we are.

Some of the bits that inspired this post.

https://orwell1627.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/nietzsche-on-suffering-analysis/

http://www.valueofsuffering.co.uk/nietzsche-on-suffering/

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Book Review ~ The Universe of the Mind

The Future the Mind, by Michio Kaku $21.40

the-future-of-the-mind-sidebarI personally could not wait for this book to be released. First of all, Michio Kaku, as a theoretical physicist, is one of my super heroes. Second, the whole subject of mind and consciousness and whatever it is that is going on up there fascinates me.

The book was all I expected and much more. Kaku walks through the physics and the neurology of what we know about the brain, how it works, what makes things go wrong, and what makes things work better than the general population. The book is a thorough layman’s guide to where we are in the study of the brain and all the things it does, or doesn’t, do. And then there is the Appendix!

What about free will? If our actions can be traced to some function or non-function within our mind, then how do we know we really have free will? Is everything really guided by predisposition? In his appendix, Kaku addresses how the new scientific discoveries explore both sides of the issue. Are people really helpless in their choices and the best we can do is rehabilitate or confine them? Is punishment a non-starter?

According to an experiment performed by Dr. Benjamin Libet in 1985, it’s possible that free will is, at the very least, not what we expect. Using EEG scan, Dr. Libet was able to determine that the brain actually makes the decision to do something prior to the conscious choice to do it. In other words, we do not act on a conscious decision, we follow along with what the brain has already decided.

What does stir the process is what we know of quantum mechanics. When the probability of something being there or not becomes a factor, then our lives are not necessarily predestined, or predetermined. There is an element of change and probability in the picture that makes us individual and less predictable.

One of my favorite cuts from Dr. Kaku was in a Through the Wormhole episode on consciousness. He discusses the same concept in the appendix of this book. It begins with Schrodinger’s Wave Function, which won him the Nobel Prize. The math indicated that an electron could be a particle or a wave. But if it is a wave, what was it waving? Sorting this out is how Werner Heisenberg arrived at his uncertainty principle. However, Schrodinger was having none of it; the universe did not operate on probabilities. Schrodinger, wishing he had never come up with his wave function, created a thought experiment involving a cat.

Place a cat in a sealed box, with a container of poison gas. In the box, there is a lump of uranium. The uranium atom is unstable and emits particles that can be detected by a Geiger counter. The counter triggers a hammer, which falls and breaks the glass, releases the gas, which can kill the cat.

According to quantum mechanics, we do not know whether or not the uranium has decayed and started a sequence that will kill the poor kitty. We don’t know until we open the box and observe (take a measure) the state of the cat. This is why we say that until that moment of observation, the cat is neither dead nor alive because a possibility exists for both – until the moment of measurement. Only then does the probability wave collapse into one wave – the observed state. Food for many years of theoretical debate. There were three schools of thought developed in answer to this paradox.

My preferred path was developed in 1967 by Eugene Wigner. He arrived at the conclusion that only a conscious person can make the observation that collapses that wave. However, if the observer and the cat are in the same universe, then who is to say that the observer is dead or alive? Therefore there must be another conscious observer – ad infinitum. Eventually you arrive at some form of “cosmic consciousness,” better known in some circles as God. Or, maybe a living, conscious universe, creating, measuring, keeping kitties healthy.

Wigner’s conclusion was that it was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum theory in any consistent way without reference to some form of consciousness. Someone, great or small, had to be the observer for the wave to collapse in some form of existence. This does not mean that consciousness controls reality – it only means that the act of observing (measuring) reduces the probability wave into a single wave of reality.

Some people feel that the study of the mind is somehow sacrilege. I beg to differ. Time and time again in ancient sacred works, including the bible of the Christian world, we are told to observe. To look within the wonders of the universe to see the beginnings of our answers. To seek our truths. The more we know, the more we wonder.

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Book Review(s) ~ Our Mysterious and Beautiful Arctic Shore

Book Review(s) — Aunt Phil’s Trunk, now 4 volumes each $15-20.

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It is, of course, rather nice to breathe the fine air of history once again. Through a chain of friends I was asked to take a look at the first two volumes of what is growing into a series called, Aunt Phil’s Trunk. Even the making of these books has a historical tang to it. Aunt Phil, Phyllis Downing Carlson, was a historian and a meticulous collector of Alaskan Lore. She bequeathed this body of knowledge to her niece, Laurel Downing Bill. Laurel, fascinated with the treasure trove she had found, took herself off to university to learn journalism and history. Upon graduation she began further researching the history of her home state, Alaska. Then she began the process of weaving her own tales with those of her aunt’s to create a really fascinating read. You never get lost because she always makes sure that while you are reading Alaskan history, you also know what was happening in the burgeoning country to the south.

I found myself quite delighted wandering through the pages of this collection of stories. Bill provides some background on habitation in Alaska as early as 850 BCE. In the early chapters of volume one, Bill gives a brief history of the violent geological nature of the land. She describes how volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and Arctic winters shaped the land and the islands that are near its shore.

Of great interest to me was her research of the Russian possession of the country, and the dream of Secretary of State Seward to own the northern frontier. The purchase price of Alaska was somewhere around 2 cents an acre; $7.2 million dollars. There’s a photograph of the check! There are photographs of the Russian forts, the lovely Russian princess bidding a sad farewell, and of the American soldiers taking possession of the territory.

She adds to her story further research on the purchase price. There have been some rumors that the payment included a thank you price for the visit of the Russian fleet during the Civil War. Bill, in story-time style tells you that history shows a different tale. The price of the territory was already in the process of being negotiated before the war (somewhere in the 4-5 million dollar range). As far as the Russian fleet was concerned, the wars brewing in Europe put Russia at a distinct disadvantage. It was necessary to get their fleet to safety and by parking it on the American shores, Russian helped to tip the balance of support to the Union. American officials studiously ignored Russia’s encroachment on Polish soil. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

When Volume 2 begins we discover that it wasn’t all settled with the deed and treaty. As gold was found and things started to perk up a bit, well, the Canadians had their own ideas of where the boundary lines were drawn. Interpretation and re-interpretation of the boundaries conveyed by Russia brought the US and Canada close to the threshold of a border war. With the building of the railroad, which ran through territory that both the US and Canada claimed, things were getting serious. As progress pushed north (1898) serious negotiations began in Quebec City to settle the issue. Finally in 1903 a panel was set up to decide once and for all where the Crown lands ended and America began. President Theodore Roosevelt informed the panel that if they didn’t get it settled he would send in the Marines.

The tales and the photographs (some 650 between the two volumes) continue to lead you through the development of this beautiful wild country including the conquest of Dinali (Mt. McKinley), the volcano Katmai, the birth of the Iditarod and stories of the men and women who had no wish to tame the wilderness, but to learn to live within its majesty.

It’s a good read and I highly recommend you check it all out!

Laurel can be found in these online hangouts

Email: auntphilstrunk@gmail.com
Website: http://www.AuntPhilsTrunk.com
Facebook: http://www.Facebook.com/LaurelBillAuthor
Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/LaurelBill
Google +: http://www.plus.Google.com/LaurelBill
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmh0wCifvbXYsVg5IkawkyQ

All of the volumes available to date can be found here:

Aunt Phil’s Trunk volumes 1 through 4 are available through http://www.AuntPhilsTrunk.com and Amazon.com.

Volume 1: http://j.mp/SSiIKX
Volume 2: http://j.mp/SSiOT1
Volume 3: http://j.mp/SSjEz2
Volume 4: http://j.mp/SSjR5q

This post is part of a blog tour and there are prizes!  Check out the details at

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/dc88698/

 

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