A World Frozen In Time

January 25, 2015

A friend of mine sent me a video that was really moving.  It captures the life of a 93 year old man living in solitude in a remote log cabin out in the forest.

At one point he mentions that life out there is the same as it was eighty years ago when he was a young man visiting there for the first time.  He built for himself a world frozen in time.  It’s a rebellion against the most powerful force of the universe.

Some argue that in life you have to learn to let go.  Change is inevitable.  The natural progression of things is dissolution and decay.  Each day has to be a new day, born from the ashes of yesterday.  I’m not saying I disagree with all of that, but if you’ve ever really loved something or someone, it’s not so easy to be flippant about it all.  People will tell you to go out and meet new people, find new things, and create new experiences, as if everything can be replaced by something new and better.  There are many things which are irreplaceable and some moments are so beautiful that they’re hard to ever forget.  You don’t want them to pass away, lost to time.

Seeing how old this man is, it got me thinking of my grandmother.  When she died, I remember sitting on the front row during the funeral, thinking to myself, “There won’t be many people in this world who will love me like she did.” Other than my parents, my brothers, and possibly a future wife (if I ever do get married), I just can’t see it happening.  Granny was irreplaceable.  You don’t get a second go. I can’t go pick up a new grandma at the grocery store, or download an app on my phone and find a new one with a few finger swipes.

The older you get, the more things you see come and go, and it has a lasting effect on you.  When you’re young, it doesn’t even cross your mind that things change.  You haven’t experienced it yet.  The transitory, ephemeral nature of this world hasn’t worked its cruel magic on you yet, but it will.  Once you see people you love pass on, when special places and landmarks which you’re attached to are torn down, and the world and culture around you rapidly changes, you’ll come to understand this for yourself.

But not everything changes.  I like how the video begins, showing these expansive landscapes, standing still, almost frozen in time.  It really captures the feeling of being out in the middle of nowhere. Unlike in the city, as the sun sets and night comes, the red sky gives way to this giant black dome of stars, a vast glimmering, seemingly timeless expanse.  Jack English lives in his own private castle.

As I’ve experienced more and more of this flow of time, seeing things around me change, I’ve been more drawn to finding a partner in life.  Though I may have to move around for different research positions, and homes would change, coworkers change, and everything changes, at least she’d be same.  There’d be someone who knew me, understood my story, and understood where I come from.  She’d know me and I’d know her and we’d look out for each other.  I’d have something which would be consistent.  That’d be nice, though it’s not easy to find.

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Ten Years Of Blogging

January 24, 2015

Wow, I just noticed that come this March, I will have been blogging for ten years!  That’s hard to believe. I don’t really know what to say.

Today I found myself reflecting on all the years I’ve been blogging and then I asked myself why I’ve been at it for so long.  A lot of people start blogs, but very few people keep at it week after week, year after year.  So why do I do it?

I think that I want to let people know that I’m here and that I exist.  In my own experience, it’s difficult to connect to people.  I rarely have significant, deep conversations with anyone. I think a lot of you who read these blog posts know more about me than people who interact with me everyday in real life.  Most of the time, life doesn’t afford us moments to share thoughts like these.  We’re all familiar strangers.

I wish I could just walk up to people I don’t know and start up a deep conversation.  How is your love life?  Tell me about it, in detail.  What do you think of this place?  This world?  What’s it like living your life, as you?  What do you think of your job?  Your career?  What about the people around you?  What’s your relationship like with your parents?  Your coworkers?  Your siblings?  Your spouse?  Your children?  Did life turn out how you thought it would?  Would you rather be someplace else?  If so, where?  What are your dreams?  What did you have to give up in your life?  If I’ve been successful, a careful reader should be able to answer all of these questions for me.

Over the years, I hope I’ve managed to paint a vivid picture of who I am, what I think about, and how I feel about things, and that you all have seen how I’ve grown over the years.

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Wise Men and Gurus

January 15, 2015

When I was in my early twenties, I spent a lot of my time reading philosophy books.  I admired wise men and gurus and wanted to be like them.  That led me to write up a collection of my own wise sayings.  I’m rather embarrassed to share them with all of you.  Looking through this list on my computer, I still agree with some of them.  Maybe I’ll share a few that are decent?

People who live lies tend to congregate together, and hide in their own company.

What is self-control? It’s not will-power, it’s a mind without conflict.

You don’t have time for something? Time management is about priorities. You want something more than something else.

Strange things people do often have much less strange reasons. All people are normal if you’re smart enough to see it.

Never glorify mediocrity. Some poor soul may listen to you.

“Clever” men tell you you’re stupid. Wise men tell you how to improve and give you hope.

It’s easy to give your life to something. The problem is determining whether your cause is worthwhile.

Many men sound clever. They talk and talk, and confuse everyone. Judge the content by what it leaves you in the end.

When searching for answers in life don’t be surprised when you find a world you least expected. Expect mental back-flips and 360 revolutions. Nothing is how you thought it was as a child.

Nothing is difficult or easy. Difficulty is not intrinsic to a task, but dependent on your approach.

You don’t necessarily have to be prepared for the entire journey, but only for the next step. You’re never completely ready for anything new you try.

Wisdom consists in seeing the invisible potential within what is seen.

Judging someone confines them to their past, and if you’re judging them to begin with I’m guessing you don’t like their past. This isn’t going to get us anywhere.

No one is completely responsible for their own life. The actions of others influence you as well.

I’ve met many nice people who promise a lot but deliver very little. I’ve met others who are irritable yet keep their word. Never judge someone at face value.

Ignorance is bliss as long as someone is watching over you. Otherwise, not so much.

But as I studied more and more, I came to realize that there were “wise” people advocating every possible mindset and philosophy.  No matter how you were living or what decisions you were making, there was always some “wise” person to come along and justify whatever it is.

Let’s dissect one of my own quotes.  Take the quote “Never glorify mediocrity.” There are a million different variations.  Here’s just one.

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You can easily find someone else telling you the exact opposite, to love yourself and be content how you are.  After all, why chase some subjective sense of perfection that doesn’t exist?  We’re all divine images of God, all perfect and beautiful.  And if you take that mindset to its full extreme, everything is perfect and beautiful.  See beauty in all things!  Then that warm fuzzy feeling comes all over you and you think, “Oohhh, this must be true!”  All we need to do now is write up a pithy quote infused with emotion, “A wise man can see God in all things. Everything happens for a reason.  We are all whole, perfect, and beautiful.”  It’s easy to produce and infinite number of warm, comforting, and accepting variations.

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I personally believe in excellence and shy away from of mediocrity.  If I do something, I want to do it well.  For example, when I take exams, I get A’s.  I study and master all the material.  I don’t accept myself if I barely make it by with gentleman C’s.  I tell myself, “I need to work harder and master this.  How am I going to contribute to my field if I can’t even master these university exams?”  But not everyone has ambition or a desire to create new things for the world. Many want to live simple lives.

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I believe that truth is a difficult thing to obtain and that a person has to really work to obtain it.  But let’s take a quote from Oprah’s favorite poet, the late Mary Angelou.  If I look her up on Brainyquote, within a minute or so I find, “I’m grateful to intelligent people. That doesn’t mean educated. That doesn’t mean intellectual. I mean really intelligent. What black old people used to call ‘mother wit’ means intelligence that you had in your mother’s womb. That’s what you rely on. You know what’s right to do.”  It’s the total opposite way of thinking.  Compare that to Richard Feynman, the Nobel laureate physicist.

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In the world of physics, you have to be wary of intuition and constantly question yourself and what you want to be true.  As a poet, you can write down whatever you’re feeling, and I suppose a lot of it is about expressing emotion.  Physics is not like that.  When you’re building satellite system and launching it into space, you have to know what you’re doing.  As Feynman said, “Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

To give another example, when I look in the mirror and see a pudgy belly, I don’t see beauty, I see a problem.  I find myself thinking about what I need to change, whether it be my diet, exercise routine, or lifestyle.  I relate to a quote from Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Strength does not coming from winning.  Your struggles develop your strengths.  When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”  Or as he put it another time, “If it jiggles, it’s fat.”

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Compare that to feminists with their body positive thinking.  They’ll say, “Self hate isn’t okay at any size“, or in more poetic terms, “When life throws you curves, embrace them.”  If we search the internet, we even find pop stars weighing in on the issue.  Take the singer Rihanna, “You have to just accept your body.  You may not love it all the way, but you just have to be comfortable with it, comfortable with knowing that that’s your body.”

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As I got older, I saw truth in both learning to be content where I am and striving to be better than what I currently am.  I wondered if they were both true in a way, or whether the “truth” was somewhere inbetween? Or maybe they’re true in some circumstances and not in others?  As I reflected on this dilemma, I eventually decided that there often is no truth when it comes to how you live your life.  That’s your choice.  You’re free to live how you want to live.  Every way of life leads to some outcome, and if you’re satisfied with your life, that’s all there is to it.  It depends on what you want. This is the meaning behind the other old quote of mine which I shared, “Many men sound clever. They say all kinds of things.  Judge the content by what it leaves you in the end.

Arnold’s mindset will lead you to change, grow, and get in the gym.  You’ll work hard and then get the body you want.  The feminist mindset strives for peace of mind and contentment.  They’re different strategies with the end-goal of being happy with yourself.

The key point to realize is that every way of thinking, every philosophy, every mindset will lead you to a different life.

I wanted to share a video from the philosopher Slavoj Zizek, which is pretty interesting.  Sometimes he annoys me because I feel he’s always trying to shock people, but he makes a good point when he states, “Wisdom is disgusting.”  By wisdom, he’s talking about all these different quotes, sayings, and cliches created by so-called wise people.

He gives several great examples.  If a person takes a big risk and succeeds, a “wise man” will come along and say, “You never get anything in life unless you’re willing to take risks.”

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If that same person fails, another “wise man” will come along and talk about having realistic expectations and not biting off more than you can chew.

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Take another example dealing with spirituality.  Wise men will come along and tell you not to get focused on this material world where everything is temporal.  We should instead focus on eternity.

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Another wise man will come along and say, “Don’t focus on abstract ideas like infinity and eternity.  Grasp what you can in the here and the now.”

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Then there’s variations on those themes such as, “Don’t take extreme positions.  There is a middle way!  Find eternity in the here and the now.”

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You can basically spin anything any which way.  There are so many mental strategies men have devised to emotionally cope with this life and the problems we face.  Very often people take up different philosophies depending on where they find themselves, what they want out of life, and what they need to get through what they’re experiencing.

For example, some philosophies and mindsets are geared toward enduring suffering with a smile on your face.  They’re perfect for underdogs and those who have had bad luck in life.  Some philosophies are geared toward explorers, venturing into new domains.  They’re well suited for a scientist like me, trying to discover new things about the universe.  Others are geared toward being happy at home, and building relationships with those around you.  Those are well suited for a housewife raising her young children.  Depending on a person’s genetic make-up and personal life experiences, some mindsets and philosophies are better suited to them than others.

In my case, I doubt any of you would like me to base my decisions on prayer and intuition when building a nuclear reactor in your city.  I have to be skeptical and base all my decisions on what’s been proven experimentally in the laboratory.  But what’s good for one person isn’t good for another.  Take creative types.  If a writer is working on the next Lord of the Rings trilogy, or working on a science fiction video game, a very critical, skeptical mindset, very rooted in reality isn’t what they need to succeed in their craft.  We’re all different.

I say all of this to simply point out that there is no “way”.  Nobody has the one true way to live life.  There are many.  Oftentimes there isn’t any meaning to “truth” when it comes to personal philosophies and lifestyles.  But that’s not to say that all mindsets lead to the same outcome.  They’re simply complex mental and emotional strategies.  Some are better suited to particular situations and lives than others.

Unlike Slavoj, I don’t find wisdom disgusting. I simply want to point out that there are many “wisdoms” and to always keep your mind open.

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Je Suis Charlie

January 8, 2015

A group of radical Islamist extremists went into the offices of the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, killing twelve of their staff members.  Angry over a satirical cartoon depicting their prophet Mohammed, they armed themselves with AK-47s and gunned down all the cartoonists and several others while exclaiming, “God is Great” and “We have avenged the prophet”.  They then made their getaway and are still on the loose.

The image below says, “We are Charlie”.  We all stand in solidarity against men like them, trying to silence free speech through violence.  There’s no place for these kinds of people in the modern world.

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Peace In Unchanging Things

December 28, 2014

The other day I found myself reading Spinoza’s Ethics and I came across a quote which really jumped out at me.

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He argued that we should only attach ourselves to things which are eternal and incorruptible, the best thing being the laws of nature.  He looked around him and saw that all things on Earth decay, all empires eventually fail, and that we all age and die.  He says, “Look at how much pain we have by attaching ourselves to fickle individuals for love.”  But the laws of nature felt different to him.  He would look up to the stars and imagined that there was this eternal clockwork running the universe and that it was eternal and unchanging.  He put his faith in that.

Considering the information available to him at the time, I can see why he thought the way he did.  He saw the universe as this pristine, unfailing machine, always in operation, eternal and unchanging.  When you compare that to anything we humans try to build, just the idea of being a part something that is truly eternal can be calming.  Unfortunately it’s just a thought.  We’ve learned more about the universe since then, and we physicists don’t really see the universe in that way anymore.  If Spinoza knew all of the physics and cosmology we do today, I don’t think he’d find the same peace in that line of thought.

High energy physics along with cosmology is leading us to something physicists call eternal inflation.  Basically, an infinite number of bubble universes are coming in and out of existence, all with different laws of physics, and every possibility can happen or will happen an infinite number of times.

With this in mind, what does it mean to believe in the laws of nature?  That anything is possible?  That all things are happening or will happen?  I don’t know.  It’s not exactly comforting because there are bad possibilities along with all the good ones.  Every possibility, mundane or profound, horrible or beautiful, it’s all happening over and over and over, an infinite number of times.

Quantum field theory, which is our most accurate description of physical reality to date, represents all the matter composing our world as vibrations (excited states) of these fields which interact with one another.  Universes can essentially come out of the void, from nothing.  When physical matter is created, that has a positive energy balance and the gravitational fields in the space between the matter has negative energy.  If you add up the gravitational field energy with that of the physical matter, you get a zero energy balance, so it all works out.

The same idea applies to motion.  For every chunk of matter spinning one way, there is another chunk of matter spinning the other way.  If there is a galaxy spinning clockwise, there’s another equally massive galaxy spinning the other way.  Electrical charges also work this way.  For every positive charge there is a negative charge.  If you add them all up, you get zero net charge.  For every this there’s and equal and opposite that.  A yin and a yang.

Considering all of this, I suppose you could argue that all of this may be eternal, but incorruptible?  Everything seems very transient and ephemeral to me.

I have more to say about all of this, but I’ll have to write up another post.

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