March 25, 2012
Politics is a circus that I can’t take seriously. I mean, look at this political ad by Rick Santorum.
Just think if Obama gets relected! Every small town will become a wasteland, freedom of religion will be a thing of the past, gas prices will be through the roof, and Iran will nuke us! Scared? This is your cue to cry in terror and run in circles screaming, “What can I do?” Of course there’s only one thing you can do — vote Rick Santorum!
March 24, 2012
I’ve always admired Sherlock Holmes. He’s probably my favorite fictional character, mainly because he takes time to notice things most people never even consider. Today I want to talk about one of those things, the various grasses covering the ground outside.
Since my mind obsesses over the “big questions” I first ask whether or not grass has always existed, and if not, how long has it been around? The answer is no, it hasn’t always been around, and on an evolutionary time-scale it’s actually a rather recent addition to the Earth. If you were to go back twenty-five million years or so, you wouldn’t find any grasses. The dinosaurs never had a chance to see a single blade of grass.
I find green grass to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing sights in the world. Even when full grown, few things are as soothing as watching their flowers sway in the wind.
Oftentimes grass flowers are not recognized as such. Many grasses grow in open, treeless country where there is nearly always a breeze to distribute their pollen. With no need to attract animal or insect pollinators, they don’t bother with the colorful flowers and instead use small, drab scales which grow in clusters on special tall stems.
Thinking of flowers, if I were given all the money in the world, I’d buy a large chunk of land and create a giant garden like paradise, hiring a legion of workers to help me keep it all maintained. I love flowers and I love the outdoors. Growing up I spent all my time outdoors, and while many people think I’m a person who spends all his time on the computer, I’m actually outside quite a bit.
If it weren’t for work and school I’d live in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere, having very little contact with anyone. I’d spend half my day studying and the other half planting elaborate flower gardens. I sound like an old man, but I’ve never been able to relate to most young people. They like rock concerts and movies. I like books, flowers and the breeze.
Sorry for the slight tangent there. The main thing grass needs is sunlight. Grasses can endure scorching heat, fires, and intense sunshine, but they always need light. That’s why you won’t find any grass on a forest floor – there’s not enough sunshine. As for fires, while their leaves may be destroyed, grasses have their root stocks lying close to the surface of the soil and these are seldom damaged. This is the central reason they’re able to maintain themselves after regular mutilations from animal grazers and the blades of lawnmowers.
Their remarkable endurance comes from the way they grow. Take the leaves of most plants. They spring from buds on a stem which then develop into a branching network of veins which carry their sap, eventually expanding out into their final shape. If they’re damaged, this design can stop sap leakage but most plants are unable to repair themselves further. Grass is different. Its veins form, not in a network, but in a straight row of unbranched lines that run up the entire length of the leaf. The growing point is at the base of the leaf and it is active throughout the entire life of the plant. If the upper section of the leaf is damaged or chopped off, it grows again from the base to restore its original length.
Let’s compare the leaf structure of a normal plant with that of grass. First a normal plant leaf.
See how it’s like a web? Grass leaves don’t look like this. There’s no branching out. It’s straight lines.
What I always find fascinating about the world is how intricate and subtle it is. All leaves aren’t the same. Our eyes aren’t exquisite enough to notice all these details, but they’re there if you take the time to look. Grass leaves almost seem more engineered and less natural. Straight lines are very Euclidean. I guess I always supposed that nature is more fractal like and branching but this isn’t always true.
But not only grasses durable, they’re also capable of spreading better than most plants. They don’t just rely on seeds to spread; they’re also able to put out horizontal stems along the surface of the ground and each joint of these is able to sprout leaves of its own along with roots.
As a child I used to wonder how long grass lived. Do each of those little plants live forever? How old was the grass? If I continued to water it, and it always got sunshine, would it live forever? You might guess that the answer is no, and you’d be correct. Nothing in this world lives forever, not even the grass. Most individual grasses live for a few years before being replaced by new seedlings. So every few years what you’re seeing outdoors is a brand new lawn.
The characteristics of the soil determine which grasses end up growing in that location. There’s four central factors:
1) Soil depth
2) Soil texture
Each grass has its own root structure and different root structures require different soil depths. On deep, well drained loamy soils, tall growing species such as big bluestem, B. dahl bluestem, and switchgrass develop root system five to seven feet deep. Other grasses, such as blue grama, buffalograss, or common bermudagrass only need two feet of soil.
My favorite color is blue, so it’s only natural that my favorite grass is bluestem.
Isn’t that nice? You can plant it as its own shrub in your flower garden and it stands alone, but it will also grow into a tall field and it’s beautiful to watch sway in the wind.
And we’ve all seen switchgrass. It’s everywhere.
For good measure I’ll include a picture of buffalograss. I think it’s the most beautiful of the green grasses.
You may have seen areas where grass is all spread out in small little clumps, leaving patches of dirt. The Sherlock Holmes side of yourself may have been wondering, “Why does grass grow in a patchwork in this location whereas in this other area it’s very lush and full.” For plants (grass included) to survive in shallow soils, they must spread themselves out so that their roots can spread around their radius to get water and nutrients. Patchwork grass clumps indicates that the soil doesn’t go down very far at that location. When plants have adequate soil depth, their roots will go down deep and they can happily sit right beside one another.
Soil texture is related to the different proportions of sand, silt, and clay. This determines both the fertility of the soil as well as its ability to hold water. Sandy soils have lower water holding capacity and greater aeration, whereas, clay soils have higher water holding capacity and lower aeration. If you’ve ever played in the dirt (I used to all the time as a kid), this will be obvious to you. I used to make things out of clay along the creek bed, and remember how clay would stay wet a long time.
Sandy soils have a lower capacity to hold cations. Grass roots use these ions (primarily calcium and magnesium ions), in the process of extracting nutrients from the soil. I don’t know this for certain, but I’m guessing the electromagnetic radiation from the sun stirs up the charged particles in the top-soil and somehow this is related to how the roots extract nutrients from the soil. This is why the soil needs ions in it in order for plants to grow.
Since roots are living breathing cells, they also need oxygen. They actually “breathe” underground which is why there has to be some degree of aeration in order for plants to grow. If the soil is too compact, or there’s too much water, the plants literally drown.
All plants also need core nutrients from the soil. They’ll only grow as far as the most limiting nutrient allows. The main nutrients used are nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur, but small amounts of iron, manganese, cooper, boron, zinc, and a few others are also used. But surprisingly, very little of the plant is made up of these compounds. 95% of plants are composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen in the form of carbohydrates and water.
Nitrogen is kind of complicated. There’s an entire nitrogen cycle when dealing with plant growth. It’s one of the most important because it’s used in cell growth and the formation of proteins. If you want the grass to grow quickly, you’ll need soil rich in nitrogen. In nature, where does the soil get its nitrogen? A small amount comes from rainfall when the droplets attach themselves to nitrogen from the atmosphere, but most of it comes from decay of organic matter. When insects, microbes, algae, and others eat on dead materials, their waste is rich in nitrogen.
March 16, 2012
On my post the other day about Rick Santorum, I should’ve also included this video.
Make sure you don’t vote for universal healthcare because when the government’s budget gets tight, the doctors will start euthanizing all the old people. What? Don’t you all know that in European countries with universal healthcare, they just kill off old people? Wait, you’ve never heard? Well you probably haven’t because it’s nonsense, but according to Rick Santorum, it happens all the time in the Netherlands. Old people have to wear bracelets to tell doctors, “Please don’t euthanize me!” Ten percent of all deaths there come from doctors killing off the elderly! *stupid woman in background* “Oh woww……” Talk about fear-mongering.
Remember when Sarah Palin was spreading these same sort of lies? How can a candidate running for the highest office in our land get away with statements like this? Where are the journalists doing fact checking, holding him to the fire? When pressed about this issue by foreign reporters, our former senator’s spokeperson told them, “Rick is strong in his pro-life stance. He speaks from the heart.” Right. No fact checking, just make things up when the facts get in the way, and remember, speak from the heart! I can’t stand that man. How is this guy a viable candidate for president of the United States? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I weep for my country.
March 14, 2012
I was out for a walk just yesterday and though I shouldn’t be surprised, I saw a Rick Santorum for president sign posted in somebody’s front lawn. I guess considering I live in Missouri, and the guy did win the Republican nomination in my state, I shouldn’t be surprised. Even so, I’m just ashamed. I look around me and think, “Why America? Why that guy? He’s the worst of the worst.”
In today’s economy, if you don’t have some sort of higher education or vocational training, you’re going to struggle. Minimum wage isn’t enough to live on. Rent is too high, homes are too expensive, healthcare is too much. You can barely make it, if at all. Our new economy requires very highly skilled jobs in computers, science, engineering, biotechnology, and so on. At the very least you need some sort of beyond high school training in something. All of these positions require education and knowledge. But oh, Rick Santorum doesn’t believe in college. That’s a place where liberal college professors are out to brainwash you with their elitism and anti-religious messages!
He’s totally out of touch with reality. He’s obsessed with this fictional “liberal agenda” in college? I mean, what in the world. Made in Obama’s image? Is he subtly trying to make some sort of religious reference that professors are profane idols or something? Don’t worship god, worship me and my great mind! Mwahahahahaha. I mean seriously. What is he even trying to say there? I’ve been in college for over two years now and I’ve never had any of my professors talk about religion with me.
If a lot of students do end up losing their faith after taking biology classes, or political science courses, or whatever, that’s because they’re becoming smarter and more deeply understanding the issues. Believing in Noah’s ark and Adam and Eve becomes a tad more difficult when you’ve studied genetics, cosmology, or any of the Earth sciences. They study the rock strata and know that the Earth is not 6,000 years old. They use radiometric dating and other methods to calculate, using proven laws of Physics, that the Earth is billions of years old.
They study the tree of life and see that all species are connected, and that we’re a part of that. We’re not special. All species are not male and female, it’s more complicated than that. They look at the inner workings of our cellular biology and see that we have a lot of in common with all other life on Earth.
They take physics courses and study things like the conservation of angular momentum, they learn how stars form, and when they take astronomy courses, they hear about a star’s life cycle. They hear about supernovas, and how new atomic matter if forged during the process. They learn that the Earth won’t be around forever. Solar systems form and they come to understand that there’s better explanations for how everything came into being. Things didn’t just snap into existence.
They study history and other cultures and learn that those stories in the Bible have been shared by many other cultures before they were eventually taken by Christians. For example, they learn that the ‘amen’ at the end of prayers comes from the Egyptian god Amen-Ra, and so forth. There’s no agenda. Students just get educated and move on.
Santorum’s the worst. Science is the most important thing in our world today. It allows us to control nature, create new technology, cure diseases, engineer better roads, bridges, and buildings, and build a better world. You’d think people could see that, but not him. He believes scientists are all amoral, and we’re all working in our labs with no sense of right or wrong, and no conscience.
He wants to start up more wars, outlaw contraception and birth control, doesn’t believe in the separation of church and state, and need I go on? I mean, if there’s anything stupid and moronic, he supports it. He even wants the government to control the internet! He actually DEFENDED SOPA.
It’s always guys like him wanting to meddle with your sex life. As you might guess, he’s against birth control, and of course, he can’t stand gays. He often makes racist accusations against blacks, implying that they’re all worthless parasites on welfare.
This guy wants to set up a theocracy and control you. He’s evil. I’m done with this post. I’m not railing on about this guy any longer. I don’t know whether to be angry or just fall into despair. We’re going bankrupt, we have wars all over the world, financial elites on Wall Street and walking all over us, Super PACs are undermining the very foundation of our democracy, our healthcare system is bankrupting people everyday, we’re ravaging our planet’s natural resources, species are going extinct so quickly we can barely even document them, and this guy’s biggest issues are tangential things like whether gays should serve in the military. I’m going to sit here in my room and silently weep for my country. Then I’ll study physics and I don’t know, do something other than think about Rick Santorum.
You know what, I’ve been trying to think more positively lately. Let me think of one good thing about Rick Santorum….. *thinking*….. uh ….. well…. at least he’s not praying for rain.
March 11, 2012
This weekend I’ve been reflecting on a limitation of the mind which does a lot of harm to all of us. Our mind tends to mostly think in terms of either concrete particulars or abstract categories, almost always ignoring or ignorant of the generative processes which went into creating the thing in question. In other words, we’re blind to the large scale flow of time and the connections between everything, not being able to see what’s really going on around us. Let me give you some examples.
Go outside for a walk through the park. You probably know what grass is, what trees are, what flowers are, what a park bench is, and the layout of the park. What you probably don’t know is all the generative processes and history that went into everything there. Has the world the always had grass? Has grass always been the same as it is today? Have we always had trees? Have trees always been of the same types we have today? Have flowers always been the same as they are today? The Earth is old, billions of years old, but we’re living only within a snapshot of time, blind to everything that’s gone on before us.
You probably know that trees grow from small seeds, as do the flowers there, and the grass. Why is that? That’s because you’ve seen trees growing. You live a very short time, but you’ve been able to see trees start from small sticks jutting out of the ground until, later in your life, they are huge oaks. You’ve seen little shards of grass protrude from the dirt and grow into lush green grass within a very short time.
But the length of time we live is insignificant in the large scale of things. Even if you’ve studied all the written recorded history of mankind, that only goes back, at most, twenty to thirty thousand years. Life goes back billions of years, multi-cellular life back to some five to six-hundred millions years. That span of time is pretty much incomprehensible.
Though I’ve been acquiring a large library of books on biology here at my house, I haven’t yet had the time to go through them all and chart this generative process of life myself. There are all these different species and classes of life and you can trace their developments all the way back to the first single celled organisms. What a fascinating journey. I’ve spent some two years studying it so far, but I have so much to go. I know the general lineage of how man evolved, and have looked into how our nervous system formed, particularly our brain, but life is so much more than just us.
This concept doesn’t just apply to life either. Think of everything around you. Think of the evolution of technology and how it’s changing our lives. Just ponder your state of ignorance and how little you know. Even simple things. I look at my bed, and though I know what a bed is, I don’t know how they’re made, who makes them, nor the different manufacturing techniques that have been used to make beds. The same goes for my computer, my dishwasher, my stove, my air conditioner, and everything else around me. I barely know anything about anything. But even though I don’t know much about these things, there is a long developmental progression which has been going on for ages, and will continue to go on after I’m long gone. This “knowledge” is scattered across the minds of people all over the world. But as for me individually, I’m a creature near completely blind, knowing next to nothing about the reality of my world.
Some of these generative processes have been going on for millions, if not billions of years. We’re all a part of them, whether you know it or not.
Just yesterday I was reading a book by David Bohm. One of the main themes I see in all his work is that we rarely think in terms of generative processes. We tend to think in terms of what is. It’s easier. It’s hard enough just to learn about our world as it is now, much less have knowledge as to all that’s happened before us, along with all the large scale developmental trends. We instead think in terms of the “now”. We think knowledge is facts, and charts, and numbers, and things written in books. We don’t think of it as a living process driving us and controlling our perceptions, our fears, our thoughts, and our actions. His thinking is so unique, though I’ve tried studying his books over and over, each time I reread them I learn something new. His mind was on a different plane.
Take all our political problems. He proposes a rather ingenious thought experiment.
I read a science fiction story a long time ago – in the Thirties – where a scientist invented a machine that would remove people’s memories altogether, immediately, all over the world. Hitler was talking and he suddenly forgot he was Hitler. People had to rediscover how to do everything. It shows that all those political problems were in the form of knowledge. These people knew they were Nazis and they knew what they had to do. Other people know they are communists and this and that. So because of what people know, not only abstractly but concretely, they’re faced with all these problems. It seems silly to have problems based on what you know. That is, knowledge includes not only information but misinformation; it also includes confused information and it includes nonsense. It’s mixed with all sorts of useful and correct things. Even an idea which is correct in one context becomes nonsense in another. You can’t so easily fix it.
So, you could say that knowledge is not just something in the library that you can look up any time you want. It’s not just sitting there waiting for you to refer to it. That’s one picture of knowledge – that it is entirely abstract, sitting there in the computer waiting for you to use it, and then you choose to use it when you want to and give it up when you don’t want to. But that doesn’t work, you see. If you know this fellow is your enemy, you can’t give it up. If you know you’re in danger, you can’t give it up. Suppose we take people getting angry at each other. You can see that knowledge is involved, because somebody can say, “I was just sitting here peacefully and he attacked me,” or, “He’s always doing this; he does it to annoy me.” That knowledge will produce anger, right? From there on, your thought is no longer clear, because once the anger has been created, then your thought is directed toward justifying the anger. You’ll only look at the evidence that justifies your side and not the other side – or you’ll even invent evidence. Also, you may finally say, “I shouldn’t be angry,” but that’s rather silly, because one part of your knowledge says, “I should be angry,” and the other part says, “I mustn’t be angry,” and you can’t stop it, right? Why can’t I just wipe out the knowledge that says I should be angry? Then I don’t have to fight with the other knowledge that says I shouldn’t be angry. But when you carry on this fight, you just get more confused and worn out. The brain cells perhaps start to break down.
- David Bohm, Knowledge As Endarkenment
I’ve spent a large portion of my life studying the mind, and though I’ve read most all of the philosophers of the Enlightenment, Hume, Locke, Descartes, and others, I’ve never, ever, thought of knowledge in this way. This idea of knowledge as its own existence, independent of us, self-correcting itself, self-generating itself, flowing through us as a temporary medium, and completely building our world, is completely new to me. I just realized that my view of the world has been way too human centered. I’ve always drawn a distinction between knowledge and information. There’s what “is” on the one hand, and on the other we have an imperfect model of that reality stored in people’s brains, normally simplified and missing information. But the thing is, existence is driven by that knowledge. I never considered that flow. The change. I’ve been too limited in time. In a very real sense, the world is what we know. I’m not talking about some subjective sense, I’m talking about all of us collectively. The world is what we know. But how did we come to know what we know? What processes generated that knowledge?
Think of how this applies to defining who and what we are. Think of the thought experiment where our memories were wiped. Do you think we would become the same people we are now if all of our memories were erased? Would you have the same friends? The same political views? The same religious views? Would you be loyal to same people? I don’t think you would. With all of our knowledge lost, we’d revert back to a very primitive time and our civilization would crumble very rapidly. Most people would starve to death because nobody would know what’s going on. The whole process of history and discovery would have to begin anew. It all stands on this foundation of “knowledge”. That’s what I mean when I talk about knowledge being a process which runs us and our lives. We’re not just our physical bodies, we’re also this “knowledge” which has been passed down through generation after generation.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how this knowledge gives us the power to control reality. Over the past year or so, I’ve came to a conclusion that the more knowledge you have, the less relevant the “truth” becomes. Knowledge is something more than a classification and description of the world. It has a life of its own and its more proactive, more involved in the direction the world goes. It shapes reality. It doesn’t sit by passively and watch, or wait for some human to look it up in a book. It’s a generative process. It’s part of something bigger. Once knowledge reaches a certain point, how things “are” is irrelevant because you’re smart enough to change the world into the image you want it. Knowledge seems to remove the world’s power over you. It rids the world of resistance. Things that were once difficult become easy. There is no such thing as absolute difficulty. Difficulty always depends on your approach, and the approach you take always depends on your level of knowledge. A problem may be really difficult to solve one way, but if you approach it another way, it’s simple. If you don’t like how things are, with the right knowledge you have the power to change it. But what about the beginning stages, before you’ve acquired the knowledge?
Is there something intrinsic to our early stages of development which forced us to acquire knowledge? When we were roaming the plains hunting animals, what was it that lead us to where we are today? What was inside of us that craved knowledge? What do we get out of it? Was it curiosity? Was it a pleasure in finding things out? Was it a necessity for survival? Does it give us some sort of survival advantage over other species? What generative process was at work, molding us from those tribal nomads to our current stage of civilization? Or even taking it further back, what was going on in animals that gave us the capability to think, learn, and acquire knowledge? What is it exactly? Looking at it from this bird’s eye perspective, what is it?
I feel a bit taken back saying all of this. I just gave you a thought experiment that basically proved that knowledge is what holds our entire world together and without it civilization would crumble. Then again, I barely even know what “knowledge” is. I have no idea how to define it, or even indicate what sort of generative process it is.