INDEX OF TITLES  (0108 - 0133 November 2007)
(NOTE: keywords which appear in the title are not repeated)

    0108 - Memento mori, memento vitae  [becoming, change, death, forgetting, learning, remembering]
    0109 - The chicken or the egg problem solved  
[difference, generation,identity, individuality]
    0110 - Why the violin has not changed in 400 years
  [improvement, perfection, progress, standards, technology]
    0111 - Rock hard electric axe 
[electric guitar, guitar, music, phallus, sex]
    0112 - Why leaders tend to frown a lot  [consensus, dictatorship, executive, marketplace of ideas, mob, organization]
    0113 - The joys of being possessed  [Art, enjoyment, enthusiasm, inspiration, invention, motivation, play]
    0114 - All about me  [Art, the Ed, exercise]
    0115 - The word and the pill  [behavior, biochemistry, language, psychology, symbols, therapy]
    0116 - Report from toyland (2007)  [biking, computer, gender, reality, toys, VR, zeitgeist]
    0117 - Details, details...  [balance, beauty, chaos, devil, evil, generalization, God, good, magnitude, order, scale]
    0118 - My career in lutherie  [the Ed, guitar, history, learning, musical instruments]
    0119 - On being insulted and getting even  [fear, goodness, honor, insecurity, punishment, rationalism, rightness]
    0120 - Round and round and round we go  [absolute, atoms, change, cosmology, elements, evolution, motion, patterns, space, spin, time]
    0121 - Shakespeare's worst   [film review, literary criticism, literature, Titus, Titus Andronicus]
    0122 - Romans & relativity   ["altus", epic poetry, extension, Latin, linguistics]
    0123 - My angelic duty   [agenda, deadlines, enjoyment, mortality, rightness, self-worth, value]
    0124 - Fighting for peace   [action, enemies, expectations, ingratitude, insecurity, irrationality, leadership, nations]
    0125 - Fighting ignorance   [agnosis, belief, conversion, education, identity, joy, nescience, predictability, self]
    0126 - Sex in the Western world   [angelic, animal, feeling, God, joy, libido, orgasm, passion, rationality, spirituality]
    0127 - A disclaimer   [the Ed, experience, the Nutshell, truth, warning]
    0128 - True love   [acceptance, attention, change, commitment, courage, desire, habit, individuality, intentionality, joy, trust, vigilance, will]
    0129 - Everyday thanksgiving   [appreciation, attention, death, evil, good, health, hope, ignorance, learning, life]
    0130 - Moral arithmetic   [dilemma, enjoyment, feelings, not knowing, potential, rationality, value]
    0131 - I just don't get it   [difference, emotion, history, language, music, poetry, reality, variety]
    0132 - Clockwork   [agenda, attention, civilization, history, measurement, sound, time]
    0133 - In search of a truly magic flute   [comedy, critique, drama, fairy tale, music, theater]

11/29/07 (#0133) In search of a truly magic flute

Something has to be done about the "Magic Flute", Mozart's most exasperating opera. It's not that it's a mish mash of philosophy, farce, romance, heroics, myth, mystery, melodrama, terror, and gorgeous music - it's the way its many components are mished and mashed.  It's a ridiculously cartoony tale trying to be high drama. Or high drama dressed as a ridiculous cartoony tale. Continuity is a mess - it's one non-sequitur after another; critical changes in action are compressed into one frame snapshots or entirely glossed over; character development is essentially zilch (except for Papageno and Monastro); motivation is often plain baffling. Even though the general story line is straightforward enough, the way the script is structured makes shambles of story development. The only thing that really works in this ramshackle toss-together is the Papageno/Papagena romantic comedy. On the other hand, the highminded dramatic scenes come across as preposterous. Only the music elevates them to near credibility.

I have yet to see a satisfactory production of the "Magic Flute". Musically there is no problem - Mozart makes sure of that - but as theater the opera has to be rescued from itself, and I have not yet seen anyone do it convincingly. I have seen excerpts or individual scenes done very successfully as freestanding set pieces of musical theater but never an integrated, coherent and truly magical version of the whole.

Yet there is unquestionably magic in it. Besides the irresistible music, there's a lot of entertainment as well as potential food for thought in the opera which is why it remains so popular despite its disheveled libretto. People leave the opera feeling that they have seen (and heard) something significant. What they had been actually handed was a badly constructed fusion of fairy tale, melodrama and masonic mythos dressed in exquisite music, with some appealing comedy on the side.

The Nutshell is taking Friday off. Until Saturday,

Paul W.

11/28/07 (#0132) Clockwork

Note from the Ed:
Just to clarify: I do love much of what has been written in way of music and poetry during the last century . Also, Sturgeon's Law ("90% or everything is crap") probably has something to do with my alienation from a lot of the contemporary stuff. Older works, winnowed by time, are not subject to Sturgeon's Law.

Some say modern civilization began with the invention of the clock, but I say it was civilization that made the invention of the clock necessary. A case in point: for months, if not years, I have been living a largely uncivilized life, doing what I pleased when I pleased, without any regard for the rest of the world. Since I am a congenital donothingoholic, this amounted to not much. Certain events in my life brought to my attention the fact that if I am to accomplish anything with my talents (in the biblical sense) I need a plan and a commitment to stick with it. That means keeping (more or less) to a schedule and that requires a clock. I mean a clock that marks time unmistakeably and cannot be ignored like a watch or a wall clock.

Which brings me to the matter of a small, elegant electric (i.e. mechanical but battery driven) mantelpiece clock (ca. 1950s) which I inherited from my mother. Well made in solid brass and wood it looked like it ought to be a good timepiece. It wasn't - it was a lousy timepiece. It would change from fast to slow and back according to the season and the weather, and, despite clear evidence that it was intended to be a chiming clock, it was absolutely silent. I have been ignoring it for years (even though I continued to replace the batteries for tradition's sake). But now that I have decided to live a civilized life I needed to replace it with a functional clock that would keep me aware of the passage of time.

Nevertheless it irked me that I had to get rid of such a solidly made piece and a keepsake from my mother. I polished it up and decided it was a keeper after all. I would replace the works with a modern quartz movement. On closer look, I discovered that the movement in the clock was an el cheapo replacement for the original movement which had been, in fact, a chiming movement and probably considerably more accurate. The clock maker was Junghans, a reputable (though now extinct) German maker, and this had been indeed meant to be a better sort of a clock.

The clock is now back on the mantelpiece, doing a credible imitation of the Big Ben thanks to the 21st century electronics. The box resonance wonderfully enhances the sound - clearly it was engineered for this. Only one problem: the original hands do not fit the new works and there are no equivalent hands that fit to be had on this planet. I found some in England that look somewhat similar but there's no assurance they would fit (being English) and they are not the right length. So I ordered a different style that I hope will look OK with the Bauhaus inspired design of the clock. For now, until they get here, the only way I can tell time is by listening. But that was the general idea. 

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

11/27/07 (#0131) I just don't get it

Note from the Ed: Concerning the parable of the run-away train in TN#130,Ardeshir pointed out that the entire situation is a consequence of bad karma.

Music and poetry (I consider them to be one and the same mode of human expression) continue to be a problem to me. Some music and poetry I think I understand and certainly deeply appreciate. Some utterly baffles me. How can that be?

The music and poetry I love ranges over virtually all genres and origins from ancient times to the present day. On the other hand, the stuff that means absolutely nothing to me is almost all of relatively recent vintage, like the last hundred years or so. Am I a hundred years behind times? Possibly.

The amazing thing is, the people who make the inscrutable (to me) poetry and music, when observed under everyday life circumstances, seem perfectly scrutable. They talk like everybody else, in gramatical sentences, and behave more or less normally - there is nothing about them that I can see that adumbrates the strange fruit of their creativity. And then they go and do their thing which bears no connection to any emotional reality that I have ever experienced. It's all noise to me, and more or less disagreeable. 

I have to conclude that music and poetry are nothing like a universal language. On the contrary, they must be a very personal language. But it's not as simple as that. Many very different poets and musicians seem to speak my language most eloquently. Or perhaps it is I who happen to speak their various languages. Many others, most of whom are perfectly intelligible when using the ordinary vernacular, totally lose me when they switch to the musical/poetic mode.

I find this very frustrating, but there it is. I see it as the evidence of the enormous difference between myself and many others. We seem to have come from different parts of the universe, different beyond ever understanding each other. The truth is one but mind-boggling in the variety of its manifestations.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

11/26/07 (#0130) Moral arithmetic

Re; TN#129 - How soo true that all is! I daily try and look for all the many blessing that come my way, throughout the day and especially at the end! Glad to see you spreading the thankfullness and good cheer around! We all need to be reminded more often! - Elisa

I know you're a real trooper, and I see where you get your unfailing optimism! - the Ed.

On this subject, my son Cyrus argues: We ignore all the bad things that did not happen to us today. For instance, I didn't get into a car crash today, I didn't starve today, I didn't murder anyone nor get murdered (or even mugged) today, I didn't freeze to death today, and so on and so forth. No one will deny that all these negative happenings are positively good. And we in Canada are more fortunate in this respect than most of the rest of the world. It's not just that our glass is half full, it's half full with the very best champagne - something we should be celebrating! Shouldn't we be sending a big "Thank You" note to the Universe, with a dozen long stemmed roses, or something like that, every effing day, thanking the Universe for looking out for us? - Ardeshir

If you have the address, please let me have it.. - the Ed

The following situation is not a moral dilemma:

A run-away train is speeding towards a group of five people who are unaware of its approach and cannot get out of the way in time. Fortunately, you are given the opportunity to be a hero: you're standing by a track switch which can send the train onto a branching side track thus saving the five lives. Unfortunately, there's a person on the side track who will be killed if you pull the switch. What do you do?

This, of course, is not a question of morality but of arithmetic and it's a no-brainer. However, consider the following variations on the theme:

a) the five are adults, the one is a child
b) the five are strangers, the one is a member of your family
c) the five are your enemies, the one is your friend
d) the five are railroad laborers, the one is a renowned professor of philosophy
e) the five are up-to-no-good teenagers, the one is a dedicated social worker
f) the five are homeless people, the one is a billionaire
g) the five are sick and weak, the one is strong and healthy.

The problem in all of these instances is how do we valuate a human life? In our essential ignorance of the others how can we presume to put a value on any particular human life? On what basis? The situation forces us into making an impossible decision. So what happens actually? The most likely scenario is that we make a decision without thinking based on whatever spontaneous emotion rises in our mind. Another possibility is that we become emotionally paralysed and fail to make a decision in time. An unlikely scenario is that we simply flip a coin. Or commit suicide.  Whatever we do, we'll probably hate ourselves in the morning.

It's not often that we are presented with such dilemmas, at least not at the life-and-death level. But we do keep running into them from time to time. They serve to remind us that a) the world is not perfect, b) our lives are fragile and c) we can't always rely on reason to find the answer. Yet this is not a tragic fault of existence - it does not have to lead to despair. Rather, it gives an edge to our striving for joy. The one valid basis we do have for putting a value on human life (limited only by our ignorance) is its potential for enjoyment (both in the transitive and the intransitive sense). Consciously we always choose to act in ways we believe will maximize enjoyment (our own but also, necessarily, the world's). Unfortunately, our beliefs are sometimes mistaken.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

11/25/07 (#0129) Everyday thanksgiving

Everybody in the USA appreciates the cornucopia of life on Thanksgiving Day (or so  they say). But how many pay any attention to their gifts the day after Thanksgiving or the day after that (like today) or any other day of the year? There are some who are in the habit of appreciating life's gifts every day if not every moment, but I believe we can safely assume they are in a minority. Yet, if we must cultivate a habit, that is one habit I would recommend without reservation. Unlike most habits, it's good for us, good for our health both somatic and psychic. And it's an effective cure for chronic pessimism.

It's an easy habit to establish. At the end of the day simply pause briefly to recall some of the good things the day had brought, starting with the fact that you are alive and conscious and able to do this. And don't just go: "Nothing went right today, the day was a total disaster, there was not a single good thing about it!". That's not a statement, that's an attitude - a childish one to boot. Let's be realistic. Often good stuff looks evil (and vice versa). Also, it is true that there's no wind so ill that it doesn't blow some good, that every cloud has a silver lining, etc., etc. So look for the silver lining. It's always there, though at first you may refuse to see it because you want to focus on your insults and injuries, to stoke your outrage and resentment. And, of course, there are none so blind as those who will not see.

A clear, unbiased look at the day's events will always come up with something good, if only in form of lessons learned. Indeed, the failures, disappointments and frustrations of the day can all be put in the service of the good. And as long as we are alive and kicking we don't have to feel defeated just because we lost a battle. My heartfelt advice: "Never say die until you're actually dead".

Being appreciative of the good the day has brought, however little or much, strengthens us and opens our minds to new possibilities. As long as there is life there is hope - this, too, is true. And death only relieves us of all earthly concerns.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

11/24/07 (#0128) True Love

I have nattered about love before. But today my theme is True Love, which I think ought to be the only one meant by the word "love". It would sure simplify things. But don't let me get started.

There are three qualities that characterize True Love: 1) it is completely voluntary and intentional, 2) it is absolutely fearless and wide open, and 3) it is relentless in its commitment to stay alive come what may. True Love potentially can, and sometimes does, last for the life of the lovers.

What we have here is a miracle: two human beings mutually comitted to trust each other completely. How can that be? Not only that, but committed to cooperate wholeheartedly in overcoming all threats to that trust that they will inevitably come up against ("the course of True Love never did run smooth" - and it might be realistically added: never could). On the face of it, mission impossible. But we underestimate ourselves - we are capable of far more than we think. True Love happens. Actually.

Of course, it helps to be young and idealistic and full of hormones. Yet these are not the essentials. True Love can happen at any time in our lives, though the probabilities rapidly approach zero as we harden in our cynicism and general distrust of others. What is essential to True Love is the capacity for openness, for fearless facing of the facts, and, above all, the ability to change. True Love necessarily transforms both lovers - it cannot happen between people incapable of changing. But the other face of True Love is the ability to wholly accept what cannot be changed. That may be even harder than changing and yet True Love makes it easy by not wasting energy resisting or resenting.

As True Love matures it faces the deadly danger of becoming a mere Habit. A certain amount of habituation and automation in a relationship is inevitable and actually helpful, but mechanical smoothness cannot replace the dialog of minds and the ever vigilant attention that lovers pay to each other. True Love is not static, it continues to evolve or it dies. The secret of living True Love is that It takes two to Truly Love. The lovers, even though bound by their mutual trust, do not become one but remain two different individuals continuing to enrich each other with their individuality.

The first quality of True Love, I posited, is that it is voluntary and intentional. True Love is not something that happens to us, we make it happen. Purely physical attraction, which is involuntary, may or may not lead to True Love but it is not True Love. Infatuation, a form of temporary insanity, almost never ends up as True Love. I used to say that True Love is an act of will. But it is more than that. It is, first of all, an act of the heart, and as such it derives its force from the universal and transcencental desire for joy that underlies and supports all existence and drives the evolution of the universe. We have no way of knowing this, yet we are absolutely certain in our hearts that in True Love there is great joy. Those who are brave and strong enough to make it happen discover that this is true.

Until tomorrow, probably,

Paul W.

11/23/07 (#0127) A disclaimer

A DISCLAIMER: Contrary to all appearances, I am not a wise sage dispensing Truth to the world. Opinions expressed in the Nutshell are carefully considered - they represent the fruit of intensive intellectual labor - and I fully own them and stand by them, though always subject to further insights. They point, as far as I can tell, to actual truths about the world of my experience. I accept them as true for all practical purposes and I base my decisions on them. In the Nutshell, I usually treat them as satisfactorily (to me) established positions without bothering to hedge my bets to cover any possible counter-argument or criticism. Indeed, I often set them forth as if they were absolutely true with the deliberate intention of provoking the reader. In any case, they are offered only as food for thought, trusting that the reader will use his or her own experience and critical faculties in digesting them. Therefore, let the reader beware: the truth of any and all statements in the Nutshell is not guaranteed and no warranty is offered or implied for any immediate or consequential damages resulting from any application in the reader's life.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

11/21/07 (#0126) Sex in the Western world

"When I'm good, I'm very good, but when I'm bad I'm terrific". Mae West was, I believe, the first one to utter this boast which typifies our (that is, the Western civilization's) schizophrenic attitude to sex. Basically our view is that sex is "naughty but nice".

Why naughty? Actually, there is a very good reason for this view. It has to do with the tension between our animal and our angelic natures. We aspire to be angels but we are still animals and we're embarassed about it. Sex, however you spin it, is an animal function and this is underlined by our inability to do anything about our libido which, like it or not, comes with good health (most of us like it whether we admit it or not). In the act of sexual play we become possessed by urgent desires which are purely organic - our intellects are reduced to appreciative (or horrified) bystanders who, if we're lucky, have nothing to say about what's going on. And so we feel ashamed about acting like unreasoning animals, helpless slaves to our passion. It's unseemly for a rational being, it's below our angelic dignity and yet we can't help it. And the damnable thing of it is it's necessary for the survival and propagation of the human race. How humiliating, even if it is an excellent excuse to indulge as a matter of civic duty. (Naturally, we're looking for ways of making babies without sex and even without pregnancy).

There are schools of thought (more typical of the oriental than the occidental world view) which seek to spiritualize sex, convert it into an angelic rather than animal function, or at least a bit of both. It is true that intellectual prowess by itself does not make us angels. Indeed, our rationality, too, is "merely" an animal function. Nor are we the only rational animals on this planet. We just happen to have the most highly developed reasoning functionality. Our spirituality lies not in our ability to think but in our consciousness, our capacity for feeling and experiencing. And there is nothing like an orgasm to put us in direct touch with God's creation, unmediated by reason.

In the final analysis, our animal and angelic natures, contrary to the Western world's beliefs, cannot be separated or isolated. They are an integral whole and for sake of our sanity we need to accept the fact and learn to live with it. We need to embrace the animal in us, sexuality and rationality and all - but, at the same time, we need to live consciously, paying attention to what seems right and life enhancing. In the end, neither sex nor reason is where it's at. Our ultimate objective is to experience joy. Sex and reason are merely two of the means which can help us (or hinder us) in attaining a joyful life.
Happy Thanksgiving! Until Friday,

Paul W.

11/20/07 (#0125) Fighting ignorance

"With all the ignorance, insecurity, fear, hostility and hatred in the world, it's just not possible to avoid a fight, even if, or rather, especially if all you want is peace and prosperity for all." (TN#124) - That's why it behoves all of us to try and remove all the ignorance in the world. (I have a bumper sticker on my car that very correctly reads: "The most violent element in society is ignorance"!) - Ardeshir

I agree with your bumper sticker, but to "remove" ignorance is philosophically and practically trickier than it might appear, See below. - the Ed

To begin with, "ignorance", as I use the word, does not mean "not knowing" (the word for that is "nescience" or "agnosis") but rather "not wanting to know" as in "to ignore". Ignorance is the case of wilfully refusing to pay attention to what is actually the case in order that one's system of irrational beliefs may be preserved.

There is a good reason for this: our beliefs, rational or not, are the basis of our identity. The confusion of self with one's identity is virtually universal and so we perceive any threat to our belief system as a threat to our selves. No wonder we refuse to be confused with facts. Our very souls are at stake. Or so we think.

"Removing" ignorance, thus, amounts to conversion from one system of beliefs to another. Presumably from one which is at odds with the facts on the ground to one which does not conflict with the world of experience. It is not the state of a person's knowledge that is being principally addressed but his or her world view. Of course, adding to a person's store of factual knowledge can facilitate the conversion, but such additions have to be somehow sneaked past their ignorance.

There is also the problem of what is the right world view? Whose experience is to be the golden standard against which everyone else's belief system is to be tested? The practical criterion for rightness is predictability - if your knowledge and your beliefs allow you to steer the course of your life with acceptable predictability, then nobody can argue with your claim to being "right". These days science offers very high degrees of predictability allowing us to accomplish technical wonders. So science provides one useable criterion of rightness. However, many decisions remain for which science offers no guidance. That leaves a wide scope for differing world views whose rightness can only be measured in terms of enjoyment of life. 

Equipping young, not yet misinformed minds with tools and techniques for accurate observation and rational analysis is probably the most effective way of combatting ignorance. Converting the ignorant is much harder.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

11/19/07 (#0124) Fighting for peace

"So how do I deal with my mortality?" (TN#123) -  WHAT mortality??? - Ardeshir

The inevitable dissolution of the brain supported persona when the brain ceases to function. The nameless "I", I imagine, will continue to peer out of other eyes, as long as there are any to peer out of, and hopefully will move on to deeper and more effective ways of experiencing the joy of being. But the "Paul Wyszkowski" identity/persona will be dust and know nothing about it. At least until resurrection, if any. - the Ed

With all the ignorance, insecurity, fear, hostility and hatred in the world, it's just not possible to avoid a fight, even if, or rather, especially if all you want is peace and prosperity for all. The moment you take any action whatever in hope of promoting general peace and prosperity you will incur the wrath of the many for whom your action is a threat or at the very least an inconvenience. In fact, it's the only way you will know you have been effective. And the more successful you are, the more vociferous your enemies will become. On the other hand, it's best not to expect any thanks from those whom your action has benefitted. In the normal course of events, they will accept their improved state as their inalienable right naturally due to them, and complain that it still falls short of meeting their standards and expectations.

It is possible to become a beloved hero of the people in those cases where the people are a distinct group opressed by a majority or a powerful minority and you manage to lead them out of the house of bondage. Your enemy, in this case, is the opressor power, so you will be earning your hero status. Even so, there will be grumbling and the adulation will not be long-lived, unless you die before disenchantment sets in. Only dead heroes live forever in the people's imagination. If you live, your choices are to become a dictator or become forgotten as peace and prosperity set in.

What applies to individuals, applies to nations as well. Nations tend to act more slowly and more dumbly than individuals (the larger the group of people acting as an integrated society, the more primitive its collective motivation and intelligence tends to become). Fights are unavoidable and they are bloodier and more irrational than fights between individuals. A few years back USA moved to promote world peace and prosperity by reforming the Middle East and we're still at it. At least that's the current spin. In any case, the action, as might be expected, made a lot of enemies and did not earn much appreciation (its being badly botched did not help). Curiously, those who launched the action evidently did not expect this.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W. 

11/18/07 (#0123) My angelic duty

So how do I deal with my mortality? Two ways: I work out daily (actually!), and I make a halfhearted attempt to keep my cholesterol intake down. This in hopes of delaying the Grim Reaper somewhat (though the Fates pay little attention to such stuff). Otherwise, I don't deal with it. I just carry on doing what I do. 

Like George Burns who when asked to what he attributed his longevity said: "I'm all booked up, I don't have time to die", I'm all booked up. I cultivate an immense agenda which, if I don't die first, I will be starting on any time now, as soon as I get myself organized. I exaggerate. I am actually working on my agenda even as I type this. It's just that my agenda is so vast and what I get done is so little it seems like nothing. If I am to make a significant dent in my agenda, I can't afford to die for decades to come. So I just carry on as if I were immortal and don't give it another thought. I'm certainly not rushing to beat any deadlines. I don't have deadlines any more which is a source of great joy and something I am thankful for every day.

There's only one little niggling matter that I have not quite yet resolved: is there any point to what I do? In TN#61 I concluded that one's worth is measured by what one is able to give. But that depends on who's doing the measuring. I have no idea whether what I do is worth anything to anyone, though my friends kindly tell me it is. So I just push on doing my best simply for the joy of doing it. I do it because I can, because it seems right, because I think I can do it well (a crucial and cherished belief). But is it what the world needs? I don't know, I can't tell.

And yet, I do feel my existence is justified if only because it feels right. I am enjoying life. I believe it's my angelic duty to appreciate and enjoy life. And this may be sufficient.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

11/17/07 (#0122) Romans and relativity

"Spin is unique in that it is absolute (non-relative) motion which is always detectable and can be measured in absolute units." (TN#120) - Motion in a straight line is also absolute (though not as easily measured or detected as spin). If motion in a straight line were relative, there would be no difference between acceleration and deceleration in a straight line. So an object which is changing velocity while moving in a straight line would be both gaining and losing kinetic energy simultaneously: an impossibility! - Ardeshir

Isn't motion in a "straight" line just a case of spin with a very large radius (too large to measure hence the difficulty in detecting such motion)? In any case, any acceleration (addition or subtraction of energy) can be. as you point out, measured absolutely. - the Ed

To read either Milton's "Paradise Lost" or Dante's "Commedia" you have to read Virgil's "Aeneid" first, and before you read the "Aeneid" you have to read Homer's  "Illiad" and "Odyssey".  There's a continuity of style, subject and intent that joins these epic poems spanning more than a thousand years into a virtual single opus. But that is not today's subject. However, it does arise from my current reading of the "Aeneid" - specifically where in Book I Neptune is stirred from his rest in the depths of the Ocean by all the turmoil Aeolius and his winds stir up at the surface at Juno's behest (Juno is a piece of work - you don't want to cross her).

What caught my eye was that in Latin, the depths of the Ocean were described by the adjective "altus". Whoa! said I to myself, "altus" means "high" as in Alta Vista, alto sax and exalted. What's this "high" depth thing? Checking my Latin dictionary I discovered something very interesting (to me, maybe not to you): Romans used the adjective altus (actually the past participle of alo - to increase, grow) relativistically. So, when looking up, altus means "high" and when looking down altus means "deep". And looking straight ahead altus could mean "far" or "distant" (though I believe it was not normally used in that sense). But it referred generally to extension (increase) from the observer's point of view regardless of direction. In English we distinguish between high, deep and far but Romans, unlike English speakers, were not locked into the gravitational frame of reference. How about that?

I notice you fail to share my excitement...  Oh well. It's the story of my life.

Until tomorrow (yes, there will be a Sunday edition),

Paul W.

11/16/07 (#0121) Shakespeare's worst

Watching Shakespeare's worst (and least performed) play is an interesting experience. "Titus Andronicus" has been described by eminent comentators as "a ridiculous play", "a heap of rubbish", "one of the stupidest and uninspiring plays ever written" (that from T.S. Elliot, no less), "a gallimaufry of murders, rape, lopped limbs, heads baked in a pie, lavishly served with rich purple sauce of rhetoric". It's all that. Bardophiles have been casting doubt on its authorship as unworthy of Shakespeare's pen. Unfortunately, preponderance of evidence points to Will as the perpetrator. Besides, the play has certain unmistakeably Shakesperean touches as well as a welter of prototypes for his future, fully formed characters.

Laurence Olivier felt challenged by the play and produced an interpretation that almost made sense of it. More recently (2000) Julie Taymor directed a surrealistic film version (with Anthony Hopkins as Titus) which I viewed the other day, all three hours of it. As I said, it was interesting. The surrealist mode, however, doesn't relieve the play's idiocies. In fact, Titus seems even stupider than as written, and, contrary to the play's apparent intent, appears to be an inconsistent character, both naive and idealistic to the point of complete blindness and yet cunning, resourceful and reflective. I certainly could not find in my heart any sympathy for him in his self-invited victimhood.

The vilains fare best in the film. They are totally credible as enacted, although the script (which sticks closely to Shakespeare's text) gives the chief villain and evil incarnate Aaron an over-the-top comic exit line, as he is buried alive. "If I have ever done anything good in my life," he says in effect, "I sincerely regret it". Ha, ha, ha. Shudder.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

11/15/07 (#0120) Round and round we go...

Round and round and round we go,
Up so high and down so low.
Ever changing, ever same
But never back to whence we came.

Is the world really changing or is it just cycling? On the large scale of time and space (molecular to cosmic) it is evidently changing, or perhaps the better word is "evolving" - moving in chaotically shifting orbits that never return to the point of origin. But at the level of elementary events it is apparently just cycling: a photon is a vibration (a cycling) that continues absolutely unchanged as long as it is not observed. Or so we assume. Obviously, we don't know anything about the photon if it is not observed. We can only infer its constancy from the fact that when observed it always acts precisely the same way.

The basic bricks of the universe are not changing, as far as we can tell. They are perhaps too simple to allow room for change. But their configuration, the way they are arranged to make up our observed reality, changes constantly. Yet we also observe persistent (cycling) patterns like waves that persist on the ocean's surface even though the actual molecules of water that make them up are constantly being replaced with new ones. The "stable" objects of our experience, including ourselves, are instances of such persistent (though not permanent) patterns (repeating cycles) of elementary events.

As the world changes, its motions are essentially motions of rotation (though on human scale this may not be always evident). There is something about rotation (spin) that is fundamental. Everything spins, from the elementary bricks of the unverse to the galactic superclusters. No wonder pi (a numerical property of a circle) pops up everywhere in equations describing the ways of the universe. Spin is also unique in that it is absolute (non-relative) motion which is always detectable and can be measured in absolute units. Indeed, spin defines space and time. But that's another story.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

11/14/07 (#0119) On being insulted and getting even

Two notions I could never wrap my mind around are "honor" and "revenge". Yes, I understand what they mean, what I don't understand is why they are so important to so many people.

I figured perhaps "honor" and "revenge" are tribal concepts and it is the tribal mode of thought and experience that is utterly foreign to me. But there are "rugged individuals" living by and for themselves for whom "honor"and "revenge" are also among top priorities of life. As a not-so-rugged but nevertheless determinedly individualistic individual myself I looked for some common ground here but couldn't find any. It's my congenital rationalism: if it doesn't compute I can't understand it.

I can't understand of what conceivable use revenge may be. Surely not as a deterrent against future offenses - history shows it has the exactly opposite effect. Yet many people - regular people, your and my neighbors - seem to be intent on "getting even", on seeking "resolution" (as it is often called) of their sense of having been wronged. Somehow, in their calculation two wrongs make a right. I don't get it. Punishment I understand. It is the stick the fear of which tends to keep people from breaking the rules accepted by the society as necessary for general peace and prosperity. Punishment has nothing to do with revenge - it is applied dispassionately for the benefit of the society as required by the established rules. (However, punishment can and does easily become revenge when people want to see someone punished for sake of "getting even", when they take pleasure in it. Schadenfreude is another thing I absolutely don't understand).

Then there is "honor", the rather conceited belief that one is fundamentally good and right and any allegation to the contrary is a mortal insult. An "insult" is something somebody says or does with the intent of harming another person. Why anybody would want to do that I can't imagine (pre-emptive self-defense out of fear and insecurity?) but the other part of it is that unless there is actual harm inflicted (and certainly merely verbal insults are generally powerless to inflict real harm) there is no need for the target of the insult to feel insulted. And even if real harm is done, it has nothing to do with one's own sense of worth as a person. If anyone's personal worth is diminished it is the insulter's, not the insultee's. I can't possibly be insulted unless I choose to be. I have no fragile "honor" to protect and defend and few illusions about my goodness and rightness.

I should note, however, that telling people unpleasant facts about themselves which they need to know for their own benefit and advantage is not an insult, it's an act of love.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

11/13/07 (#0118) My career in lutherie

Here is the score: 19 guitars (16 classical, 3 twelve string steel), 6 variants of the Appalachian dulcimer, 1 banjo, 1 Italian baroque harpsichord, and 1 special zither-like instrument custom made for a person with MS. That's my output over some twenty years as an apprentice luthier - informally  apprenticed to several master luthiers, particularly Richard Schneider and Jose Romanillos.

It all started with my mother who was a professional singer and an accomplished pianist. I spent my early childhood with classical music and my mother's grand piano. An irony of fate since I have no musical talent at all, something my mother recognized and not only never gave me any lessons (piano or voice) but actively discouraged me from any attempts to make music (they must have been painful to her). Nevertheless, the piano was deeply imprinted on my psyche as a source of great beauty and I passionately wanted to be able to play it like my mother. This never happened. But I did play with the piano, as opportunities presented themselves, on and off throughout much of my life, in a pathetic attempt to coax beautiful music out of it.

When I moved out of my parents' home, I no longer had a piano available to me but I still had the yen to make music. I couldn't afford a piano, so I thought I'd try a guitar, which is a nice, portable instrument with harmonic possibilities of an orchestra (Berlioz called it "a portable orchestra" and used it when composing). I discovered I loved the classical guitar - the sound of it when well played - but the guitar I had bought for $25 was a very bad one. So I bought a $100 guitar but it wasn't a lot better. On further investigation I discovered that for a really good guitar, in those days, I would have to shell out about $1500. So I decided to build one for myself. The rest is history.

I discovered there was very little written about guitar construction, and what there was was often confusing or downright wrong. There were a couple of reasonably good practical books, essentially recipes for making a guitar, without any insight into the science and the art of it. I embarked on a serious quest to learn how to make a good guitar. After years of discussions with renown guitar makers, guitar players, acousticians, materials engineers, detailed studies of outstanding instruments and experimentation with materials, design and construction, I did finally learn how to make a good guitar. I wrote down what I learned in several articles, built two or three decent guitars, and retired from the business. I never did learn to play the guitar well.

I gave away some of the guitars I built, I sold several, but seven of them (including the two I kept for myself) were stolen, on three different occasions. I suppose I should take that as a compliment.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W. 

11/12/07 (#0117) Details, details...

The devil, they say, is in the details. So is God. Evidently a present day Armageddon is being fought at the level of minutiae. To the extent that details are not perfectly random ("perfectly random" is probably an oxymoron) but are at least to some extent influenced by conscious intentionality, as I believe they are, the world of experience is a manifestation of these micro-battles between good and evil (or God and devil).

The patterns of events that evolve as these battles rage on can be astonishingly beautiful - a Hawaiian sunset will serve as a banal but evident example. "The world", somebody said, "is shot through and through with beauty".  This beauty is rooted in the details, as are all phenomena of the world of experience, pleasant and unpleasant. But I don't think we can take beauty as evidence of victory of good over evil. The battle is really between the desire for order and the necessity of chaos and when a balance is achieved there is beauty. We've talked about this before.

I am not a details man. I am most comfortable dealing in sweeping generalizations and abstractions. What are details, anyway? On human scale, details are measured in milimeters and seconds - anything much smaller we can't deal with without a magnifying glass and a chronometer. But milimeters and seconds are vast expanses of space and time accommodating unimaginably huge numbers of elementary events. The true details of the world are out of our range of experience - in practice, we can only deal with sweeping generalizations and abstractions. It's only a matter of degree of how sweeping my generalizations are compared to somebody's who's a "detail person". I tend to sweep out to the limits of the knowable and understandable universe. That, however, includes both ends of the magnitude scale - the universe as a whole and its ultimate constituents.

The human "detail" is anchored somewhere in the midscale, in the milimeters and seconds range. If we go a few of orders of magnitude away from that range, on either side of it, we enter the realm of purely deductive knowledge - closed to direct human experience. Nevertheless, with the help of our magnifying glasses and chronometers (which are becoming pretty sophisticated) we have greatly expanded the meaning of "detail" in both directions. We now have an enormous quantity of details to deal with, from properties of electrons to motions of galactic superclusters. No one can deal with all of this rapidly growing mass of detail as such. Some sweeping generalizations are needed to try to make sense of it all. That's my hobby. However, historically it has always been some particular detail that did not fit the general scheme that would bring the whole sweeping generalization crashing down. Generalists, too, have to pay attention to details...

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

11/10/07 (#0116) Report from Toyland 2007

I can't believe I just spent two hours looking at Walmart's toy catalog. It's not that I never grew up and kids' toys still attract me. I never did grow up but I got a whole lot of toys way cooler than any in the Walmart catalog. There's nothing in it I want, except maybe a bike, but I've never been one to look for trouble (that's the curse of being born a rationalist) so I'm not about to start now. (I never had a bike as a child, got myself one when I was about Dante's age when he wrote the "Commedia" and wobbled around on it never feeling quite secure enough. Broke a wrist while at it, finally gave it up when I moved into a mountainous terrain. Rather regretfully, I must say. It was fun.)

So what was so fascinating about the catalog that it held my attention for two hours? I guess I was trying to plumb the zeitgeist by analyzing what are the kids' objects of desire these days and why. Well, the old standbys are still with us: dolls, guns, balls and board games, pretend adult activities like cooking, grooming and fighting, and, of course, bikes. Conspicuously missing are wagons but in their place there are not-so-miniature cars, trucks and other motorized vehicles that can be driven like the real thing.

The world of boys' toys and the world of girls' toys are absolutely separate and utterly different. There are relatively few toys that are unisex, primarily games and toys for toddlers. Generally toys are very specifically gender oriented with most girls' toys having to do with preparing them for glamorous nymphhood and, to a lesser extent, motherhood, and the boys' toys encouraging them to be aggressive, competitive and technically adept. That, too, hasn't changed in at least a century, and, in this post-feminist era, has become perhaps even more starkly manifest.

What is new is the galloping computerization of everything. Everything has a chip in it and needs batteries. More significantly, many toys plug into computers and access directly their special play sites. To fully enjoy your toy you now need a laptop hooked up to the Internet. There's also a proliferation of electronic communication devices, phones, e-mail and messaging gadgets, etc. And then there are the electronic games which are something truly new under the sun. They are rapidly evolving into virtual realities that seriously rival the "real" one (vis. "Second Life").  Deserving a special mention is the Wii which is unique in being an electronic action game that requires you to put your whole body (as well as mind) into it. Perhaps the best thing to come down the pipeline since ping-pong. It's the one other thing in the catalog that actually tempts me.

That's my report on the state of Toyland 2007.

Until Monday,

Paul W.

11/09/07 (#0115) The word and the pill

Nutshell #114 put a smile on my face... and made me hungry, as I am about to eat my boring oatmeal.  I'd really rather have spinach with eggs & feta, but I have lost my desire to cook. You are a very pleasant gentleman, and I'm glad I know you.  - Rhoda

What's to cook? I toss frozen (and thawed) spinach in the microwave for a few minutes, put a hardboiled egg through an eggslicer twice and crumble in some feta. One minute operation if you don't count the microwave time. Faster than oat meal. By the way, instead of cooking oat meal, just parboil it (not the instant variety!) for a couple of minutes in boiling water, drain, add in half a chopped up apple, pour on a tbsp or two of honey and the oatmeal's no longer boring!  - the Ed.

There are some psychopathological abnormalities which can be corrected equally successfully with so called "rational-cognitive" therapy (i.e. talk therapy) or with a pill. It's the doctor's choice whether to go the chemical route or the verbal route - either results in the desired modification of behavior. While in the pre-psychopharmacological era the talk therapy was all there was, nowadays the choice tends to be in favor of the pill because a) it does not require application of high level rhetorical and observational skills, and b) it's much faster.

However, there's more to it. The chemical behavior modification (which works by selectively promoting or blocking certain physiological processes in the brain) lasts only as long as the effects of medication. If the chemical therapy is the only one applied, the patient is essentially dependent on the drug to stay sane. What happens with the rational-cognitive therapy, on the other hand, is that the brain's software is permanently re-programmed (or as permanently as a biological condition can be). What is interesting here is that brain's physiology is being manipulated by abstract symbols (words). This is the mind-body connection. It is the reverse of the process by means of which changes in brain's physiology generate concepts and associate them with sound symbols. 

 But these are all "easy" cases. Where the pathologies are "hardwired" into the brain neither talk nor pill will help. The only hope is in physical re-arrangement of the brain's wiring - something we're only beginning to understand at the most elementary level.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

11/08/07 (#0114) All about me

"Pleasant gentleman, awake, alert, and in no acute distress. Well nourished, and well developed". A quote from a medical examination report sent by one of my doctors to another (a copy was given to me by a nurse, perhaps inadvertently). So there you have it, a professional appraisal of the Nutshell Editor, henceforth to be included with my other credentials. I especially like the "well nourished, well developed" part. How sweet it is! "No acute distress" is good, too. Mind you, this is the same doctor who upon learning that I was embarked on a second career as an artist after putting in a stint as a chemical engineer opined "you must have been a lousy engineer or else you are a lousy artist". (Apparently it did not occur to him that the two are not mutually exclusive).

So what else do you need to know about me? Actually, nothing, but as long as I am in a let-it-all-hangout mood let me proceed with this orgy of self-revelation. I like spinach. I prepare it with chopped hard-boiled egg and feta cheese. Yum. I love good crusty bread. With butter, which, along with BBQ ribs which I also love, is technically not on my low cholesterol diet. However, I live (and shall no doubt die) by the motto: "moderation in everything, especially in moderation".  That accounts for the "well nourished" observation. Other foods I like are fish and fruit. They are the staple of my diet.

My typical day starts at 7 AM (with the radio news) and ends at 2 AM (with jazz or classical music). I spend most of the time in between fretting about not getting anything done. I am, unfortunately, a donothingoholic. However, on doctor's orders (yes, the same doctor's) I have joined a gym. I start tomorrow. No doubt I will live through it. I think.

There's not much more to tell. I believe I can do Art (anybody can, think "Ratatouille") but maybe I am just a frustrated Art Critic. My dirty little secret is I can't draw. Oh, I can copy from nature, but it does not come naturally to me. I have to labor at it. This is not normal for an artist but it isn't fatal, either. I just need to be aware of my limitations and not try for what is out of my reach ("ah, but a man's grasp should exceed his reach, or what's a heaven for" - Browning in "Andrea del Sarto"). So, I try to do a little more than I can and hope I get lucky. You have no idea, or maybe you do, how much Art depends on luck...

Until tomorrow,

Paul W., certified pleasant gentleman.

11/07/07 (#0113) The joys of being possessed

"Enthusiasm" is, naturally, derived from Greek (en - in and theos - god) the original meaning being something along the lines of having been entered or possessed by a god, being divinely inspired and motivated. In contemporary speech it has been degraded to mean merely being positively excited about something but the original meaning lingers implicitly in the hypothetical answer to the question: why? why does this or anything excite us?

One thing needs to be made clear: enthusiasm is not the same phenomenon as the manic state of a polar disorder. In the manic state feelings and their causes are mismatched, even unrelated, leading to inappropriate behavior. Enthusiasm, on the other hand, is like a strong resonance between its object and the mind. It's as if we were sharply tuned in to the object of our enthusiasm. It heightens our attention to it, our appreciation of it and the effectiveness of our actions with respect to it.

Enthusiasm is not the only thing that drives us to action. The other, perhaps more fundamental motivation is necessity. But it is enthusiasm that distinguishes us from most other creatures on this planet although cats, dogs, horses, dolphins, apes and many other animals seem to be capable of it as well, that is, of choosing to act specifically for the sheer enjoyment of it rather than out of any biological necessity.

Necessity may be the mother of invention but enthusiasm surely is the father. I don't believe anything has ever been intentionally created out of pure necessity. First there is the immediate need. Then there is the searching for a solution. Then there is the "eureka!" (or the "aha!") moment and suddenly there is enthusiasm that propels us to the realization of the solution, whatever practical obstacles we may run into. Certainly no work of art would be born without it - which, to push the metaphor over the top, may be a case of male parthenogenesis, there being no apparent necessity for art.

But, of course, there is. As there is necessity for play, for love, and for doing nothing at all (something I am especially enthusiastic about). Our enthusiasms point us toward what is really important (and necessary) in our lives whether we realize it consciously or not. They are our divine inspiration.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

11/06/07 (#0112) Why leaders tend to frown a lot

There is a whole spectrum of leadership styles, from charismatic inspirers to micro-managers to fearsome despots. What kind of a leader rises to lead the people depends to a large extent on the people. A critical factor, of course, is the available choice of candidates and this, too, depends on the people although an atypical, exceptional candidate may appear - a genetic sport or an outsider.

A people fortunate enough to have a common vision of their future, need not so much a leader as an organizational committee. But that is a rare and unstable case, and just as well. The opposite of it is an unruly and unhappy mob that doesn't know what it wants. It can be led by anyone with half an idea, however stupid or insane - the only qualifications are a desire for power and a loud voice. The most common situation, however, is a chorus of a variety of ideas and desires. This chorus may be the discordant screeching of puffed up egos, or it may be just the din of a marketplace of ideas. Or something in between.

Where unbridled individuality paralyzes any social action, dictatorship is the only alternative to social disintegration. But where people are willing to discuss their ideas, what is needed is an order keeper and consensus facilitator. Finding a good one, however, may not be easy. Or there may arise a charismatic leader who, for better or worse, succeeds in bringing the majority to his or her own point of view.

The reaching of consensus may be the trickiest part of leadership (except in a dictatorship where consensus is simply enforced) but the execution of the consensual will requires strength and persistence that will fully test the leaders mettle. Exceptional leaders may rise to the challenge with poise and ease, but the typical expression on a typical leader's face (except, perhaps, during public appearances) is that of anger and frustration.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

11/04/07 (#0111) Rock hard electric axe

I forgot. The Nutshell is taking Monday off, so here's a bonus Sunday issue.

Despite my recent superbly logical resolution of the chicken/egg problem, a debate continues to rage in the background. As a result I have convinced myself that chicken came first, after all. There are some so foolhardy as to disagree.

Now to the topic at hand which concerns the phenomenon of the electric "guitar". I put the quotation marks around "guitar" because the instrument in question has evolved into an entirely new species related to the guitar more distantly than chickens to dinosaurs. By the way, let me not leave any inadvertent implication that the guitar is a musical dinosaur - far from it! It is very much alive as a versatile, musically capable, portable instrument. Especially the so-called classical guitar is in midst of its renaissance, adding great riches to the musical treasury of our age.

Neither do I wish to imply that the electric guitar is a chicken. Actually it's more of a rooster. The present day electric guitar has three basic functions. One of them, albeit a minor one, is to actually make music, mostly of the chordal accompaniment type. A more important function is to attract attention, by making loud unnatural noises and by its visual form and decoration which varies from merely extravagant to outrageous. Its third and the most basic function is as an extension of the phallus. The electric guitar is not merely a phallic symbol - it is a phallic prosthesis. Hung over the pubic area,  permanently erect and lovingly stroked, it is a celebration of priapic exuberance. Even women players strap on the electric guitar like an outsize dildo.

The electric guitar is the sine qua non of every rock band. Can you imagine a rock band without an electric guitar? It is as indispensable as the drum kit and the keyboard though for a different reason. The drums and the keyboards have an almost purely musical function in the band. The guitar is for show - it's out there in front, the band's main visual element (besides the players themselves who may or may not be more interesting than their instruments). The "players", who are usually the vocalists, may not even bother to play their guitars but they wouldn't be seen on stage without them. It would be a form of castration.

Until Tuesday,

Paul W.

11/03/07 (#0110) Why the violin has not changed in 400 years

Stradivari and his colleagues (Guarneri, Amati, et al.) perfected the violin back some 400 years ago. Amazingly, their instruments (many times rebuilt) are still being played today though they are finally beginning to show their age and may not last much longer. Fortunately, the contemporary luthiers have finally figured out how to make violins as good as Stradivari's.

Come on, you say, you can't tell me that with all our technology and advanced knowledge of acoustics and materials we cannot improve on a 400 year old invention? Well, that depends on what you mean by improve. Whatever a musician may specify in way of sound quality or playability, we can now pretty much deliver to his or her satisfaction. The thing is, violinists universally specify a Stradivari. Make it exactly like that, they say - don't try to improve it. You can't, they say, it's perfect as is. (Actually, the violin has been improved since Stradivari's time but the improvements have been relatively minor though significant).

It's not that the violin is "perfect" as measured against some universal standard of musical capability. Like any acoustical instrument, it has technical flaws that players have to learn to get around and live with. (These flaws in combination with particular musical virtues constitute what the violinists consider the soul of their instrument - in fact, no two violins are alike, which gives lie to the claim of perfection). What it is, is that the violin as it is has itself become established as the standard. You can't improve on a standard, by definition. And, you gotta admit, it's a pretty good standard - it had to be to become universally established.

Nevertheless, with a little help from electronics, nearly flawless (and, some might argue, characterless) instruments are certainly possible. Some less mystical musicians prefer these high tech instruments, their main drawback being that they have to be plugged in. Of course, they are anathema in a classical orchestra or a string ensemble. Traditional instruments are hanging in - so far.  In rock bands, though, they have long ago disappeared.

Until Monday,

Paul W.

11/02/07 (#0109) The chicken or the egg problem solved

The matter of the chicken or the egg has to be dealt with once and for all or we shall none of us be able to sleep in peace. Actually, all the facts of the case are at hand - we only need to draw the conclusion. Let us be brave and do just that.

Fact:  It is not true that all chickens and all eggs are exactly identical.
Fact:  It is not true that the world consists exclusively of chickens and eggs.
Fact:  It is not true that a chicken produces an egg all by itself, or that an egg produces a chicken all by itself.
Fact:  It is not true that the chicken always produces an egg, or that the egg always produces a chicken.

Right away we can see that what comes before the egg and what comes out of the egg is not just a generic chicken. Certainly it is not the same chicken. In fact, we're never quite sure what will come out of the egg, if anything. And only God knows what combination of factors led to the production of the egg. Sure, a chicken was involved, but so was a rooster and the chicken feed and the time and place and the weather, etc., etc. Each generation of chickens is different from the previous one. The whole process is an unstable chain of events with an unknown past and unforeseeable future. Over large spans of time (either back into the past or forward into the future) surely the creatures participating in this chain of events no longer  resemble the chickens of today. (We have, on good authority, that chickens were once dinosaurs and who knows what they may become?).

Bottom line: we can always state with assurance that "chicken X" came before "egg Y" and that "egg Y" came before "chicken Z". Problem solved.

That's all very well, you say, but what really came first? Why, nothing. Everyone knows that.

Until tomorrow, sleep well,

Paul W.

11/01/07 (#0108) Memento mori, memento vitae

In Polish, November is "listopad" (names of months are not capitalized in Polish). "Listopad" means "leaf fall". Which is, perhaps, what the English "fall" means as well. In the middle latitudes of the northern hemisphere it is the month for shuffling through the fallen leaves in some cemetary, musing on the finity of life. And yet, life ends only to make fresh new life possible. Life is a phoenix, ever rising, renewed, from its own ashes. Death is merely the shedding of a worn out husk - life goes on in brand new embodiments, building on what the previous embodiments accomplished.

Of course, it's not as simple as it seems. There's a lot of forgetting going on. The same stupid mistakes are repeated, seemingly ad infinitum. But there is progress, of the three-steps-forward-two-steps-back variety. Eventually, life learns. And we, humans, have now tools for investigation of the past and recording of the present which, if properly applied, could give our learning rate a tremendous boost.

Still, learning is not everything. Sure, it helps to increase our knowledge of how the world works - such learning can improve our chances of survival as a species (again, if properly applied) but, as noted in the Nutshell on several occasions, mere survival, and even prosperity, is not enough. We need more, even though we're not sure what "more" is. We are not satisfied.

Fortunately, we face ample challenges to our survival and prosperity which require us to exercise all our physical and intellectual powers as well as our will and desire. While we're busy responding to these challenges we have the illusion that we're getting somewhere we want to be. But, of course, on arrival we discover it is not the safe haven we hoped for. Our destination lies forever further ahead.

This is as it should be. There is no place we can stop. Life is becoming. The journey is everything. When we stop moving, changing, we die.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.