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Teeming Links – September 3, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To preface today’s offering of recommended and necessary reading, here are passages from a hypnotic meditation on solitude, inner silence, reading, and the literary vocation by Rebecca Solnit, excerpted from her new book The Faraway Nearby:

Like many others who turned into writers, I disappeared into books when I was very young, disappeared into them like someone running into the woods. What surprised and still surprises me is that there was another side to the forest of stories and the solitude, that I came out that other side and met people there. Writers are solitaries by vocation and necessity. I sometimes think the test is not so much talent, which is not as rare as people think, but purpose or vocation, which manifests in part as the ability to endure a lot of solitude and keep working. Before writers are writers they are readers, living in books, through books, in the lives of others that are also the heads of others, in that act that is so intimate and yet so alone.

These vanishing acts are a staple of children’s books, which often tell of adventures that are magical because they travel between levels and kinds of reality, and the crossing over is often an initiation into power and into responsibility. They are in a sense allegories first for the act of reading, of entering an imaginary world, and then of the way that the world we actually inhabit is made up of stories, images, collective beliefs, all the immaterial appurtenances we call ideology and culture, the pictures we wander in and out of all the time.

The_Faraway_Nearby_by_Rebecca_Solnit. . . To become a maker is to make the world for others, not only the material world but the world of ideas that rules over the material world, the dreams we dream and inhabit together.

. . . The object we call a book is not the real book, but its seed or potential, like a music score. It exists fully only in the act of being read; and its real home is inside the head of the reader, where the seed germinates and the symphony resounds. A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.

. . . Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone. Or rather writing is saying to the no one who may eventually be the reader those things one has no someone to whom to say them. Matters that are so subtle, so personal, so obscure that I ordinarily can’t imagine saying them to the people to whom I’m closest. Every once in a while I try to say them aloud and find that what turns to mush in my mouth or falls short of their ears can be written down for total strangers. Said to total strangers in the silence of writing that is recuperated and heard in the solitude of reading.

— Rebecca Solnit, “The Faraway Nearby,” Guernica, May 15, 2013

* * *

Broken Heartland (Harper’s)
The looming collapse of agriculture on America’s Great Plains. “In the dystopian future that Teske imagines, the cycle of farm dissolution and amalgamation will continue to its absurdist conclusion, with neighbors cannibalizing neighbors, until perhaps one day the whole of the American prairie will be nothing but a single bulldozed expanse of high-fructose corn patrolled by megacombines under the remote control of computer software 2,000 miles away. Yet even this may be optimistic.”

Martin Luther King? Not an enemy in the world (The Independent)
“Funny how the kind of people who would have been totally opposed to the civil rights leader 50 years ago now want to claim him as their hero. . . . But the adoration of banks and big business displayed by most Western governments may not fit exactly with the attitude of their hero.”

American Schools Are Failing Nonconformist Kids. Here’s How. (The New Republic)
In defense of the wild child. “[We have] crossed some weird Foucaultian threshold into a world in which authority figures pathologize children instead of punishing them. ‘Self-regulation,’ ‘self-discipline,’ and ’emotional regulation’ are big buzz words in schools right now. All are aimed at producing ‘appropriate’ behavior, at bringing children’s personal styles in line with an implicit emotional orthodoxy.”

Legislators of the world (Adrienne Rich for The Guardian)
The late Adrienne Rich, writing in 2006 shortly after receiving the U.S. National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, argues that dark times, far from devaluing poets and poetry as irrelevant, underscore the crucial need for them. “[T]hroughout the world, transfusions of poetic language can and do quite literally keep bodies and souls together — and more.”

Are We Alone in the Universe? (Thought Economics)
“In this exclusive interview, we speak with Prof. Jill Tarter (Co-Founder and Bernard M. Oliver Chair of the SETI Institute). We discuss her lifelong work with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute and look at mankind’s quest to answer the fundamental question of whether we are alone in the universe.”

The_Silence_of_Animals_by_John_GrayJohn Gray’s Godless Mysticism: On ‘The Silence of Animals’ (Simon Critchley for Los Angeles Review of Books)
“There is no way out of the dream and what has to be given up is the desperate metaphysical longing to find some anchor in a purported reality. . . . Paradoxically, for Gray, the highest value in existence is to know that there is nothing of substance in the world. Nothing is more real than nothing. It is the nothingness beyond us, the emptiness behind words, that Gray wants us to contemplate. His is a radical nominalism behind which stands the void.”

Monument to ‘god of chaos’ mysteriously appears in front of Oklahoma City restaurant (New York Daily News)
“A heavy concrete block appeared on the front lawn of The Paseo Grill in Oklahoma City on Friday. Restaurant owners aren’t quite sure what to make of the monument or its reference to H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional deity, Azathoth. . . . After news about the monument spread on KFOR, [restaurant owner Leslie] Rawlinson said she’s been getting calls from people who were excited about the find and from people who warned her about its dangers.”

Parallel worlds (Aeon)
“Where did this idea of parallel universes come from? Science fiction is an obvious source. . . . Recently, physicists have been boldly endorsing a ‘multiverse’ of possible worlds. . . . Surprisingly, however, the idea of parallel universes is far older than any of these references, cropping up in philosophy and literature since ancient times. Even the word ‘multiverse’ has vintage. . . . If human history turns on the tilt of the multiverse, can we still trust our ideas of achievement, progress and morality?”

Siri: The Horror Movie

This certainly explains a lot.  “Appletopia” indeed.

Jóhann Jóhannsson: “Melodia (Guidelines for a Space Propulsion Device Based on Heim’s Quantum Theory)”

“The next to last track on the album [Fordlândia] is named after an actual research paper, ‘Guidelines for a Space Propulsion Device based on Heim’s Quantum Theory’, which seriously proposes a method of faster-than-light space travel. Burkhard Heim was a German physicist who dedicated much of his life to developing a method of space travel. He worked as an explosives expert during WWII and he was seriously handicapped in an explosion, leaving him without hands and mostly deaf and blind. He became a recluse and, despite his serious disability, worked tirelessly for the rest of his life searching for a unified theory of everything, which he thought possible by linking general relativity with quantum theory. His philosophy and ideas have a strong mystical character. His work, despite its considerable eccentricity, is slowly gaining acceptance in the physics community. The string orchestra was recorded in Prague and the percussion in Reykjavik and Tokyo. The percussion track is performed live by Matthias Hemstock with some editing and overdubs.”

— From Jóhann Jóhannsson, “A Track-by-Track Commentary on Fordlândia

(See “The Tragic Tale of the Rocket Maker” for an account — likewise accompanied by music from Jóhannsson — of yet another mystically inclined scientist who is linked to the history of rocketry and space travel, and who also suffered, and in this case died, from an explosion.)

Recommended Reading 30

This week’s (exceptionally long and varied) offering of intellectual enrichment includes: an argument that the likely death of economic growth is the underlying theme of the current U.S. presidential election; thoughts on the rise of a real-life dystopia of universal algorithmic automation; an account of how the founder of TED became disgusted with the direction of the iconic ideas conference and created a new one to fulfill his original vision; reflections by a prominent physicist on science, religion, the Higgs boson, and the cultural politics of scientific research; a new examination of the definition, meaning, and cultural place of “pseudoscience”; a deeply absorbing warning about the possible death of the liberal arts, enhanced by the author’s first-person account of his own undergraduate liberal arts education at the University of Chicago; thoughts on the humanizing effects of deep literary reading in an age of proliferating psychopathy; a question/warning about the possible fate of literature as a central cultural-historical force in the grip of a publishing environment convulsed by epochal changes; an interview with Eric Kandel on the convergence of art, biology, and psychology; a new report from a psychiatric research project on the demonstrable link between creativity and mental illness; a career-spanning look at the works and themes of Ray Bradbury; and a spirited (pun intended) statement of the supreme value of supernatural and metaphysical literature from Michael Dirda. Read the rest of this entry

We must connect our science with our humanity to elevate both

At a minimum, the magnificent cosmos provides some perspective on our parochial, human-created problems, be they social or political. Nature is organized in better ways, from which we can learn. The love of nature can bring us together and help us to appreciate that we are part of something far greater than ourselves. Society has too often been content to live off the fruits of science, without understanding it. Scientists have too often been happy to be left alone to do their science without thinking about why they are doing it. It is time to connect our science to our humanity, and in so doing to raise the sights of both. If we can only link our intelligence to our hearts, the doors are wide open to a brighter future, to a more unified planet with more unified science, to quantum technologies that extend our perception, to breakthroughs allowing us to access and utilize energy more cleverly and to travel in space that opens new worlds. What a privilege it is to be alive. Truly, we are faced with the opportunity of all time.

— “Neil Turok and the secrets of the universe,” Macleans, October 8, 2012, excerpted from Neil Turok, The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos (2012)

A visionary look at the way the human mind can shape the future by world-renowned physicist Neil Turok. Every technology we rely on today was created by the human mind, seeking to understand the universe around us. Scientific knowledge is our most precious possession, and our future will be shaped by the breakthroughs to come. In this personal and fascinating work, Neil Turok, Director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, explores the transformative scientific discoveries of the past three centuries — from classical mechanics, to the nature of light, to the bizarre world of the quantum, and the evolution of the cosmos. Each new discovery has, over time, yielded new technologies causing paradigm shifts in the organization of society. Now, he argues, we are on the cusp of another major transformation: the coming quantum revolution that will supplant our current, dissatisfying digital age. Facing this brave new world, Turok calls for creatively re-inventing the way advanced knowledge is developed and shared, and opening access to the vast, untapped pools of intellectual talent in the developing world. Scientific research, training, and outreach are vital to our future economy, as well as powerful forces for peaceful global progress.

— Publisher description of The Universe Within

If Science Kills God, What Fate the Devil?

The Extinction Papers – Chapter One

 

Greetings, dear readers, and welcome to the First Chapter of The Extinction Papers.

I’m genuinely thrilled that The Teeming Brainfather Matt Cardin has asked me to pour out my often daft and hastily supported thoughts into this ever-growing dossier as I attempt to document the multitudinous Mass Extinction of Things happening all around us.  The felling of gods and monsters, culture and mores, tradition and fairy tale.  The annihilation of traditional communication and existence in the moment.  The second toppling of undead Disco.  We are living in deleterious times, and for every spotted owl brought back from the brink of oblivion, often by the efforts of hard science and compassionate preservation, other things — more subtle and possibly more important things — are being blotted from existence with nary a peep.

In The Extinction Papers, I will attempt to chart and discuss the death of those nouns, those persons, places, and things (both concrete and nebulous) that are dying with the day.  Put on your butchers apron and come with me, won’t you?

Read the rest of this entry

Recommended Reading 6

This week’s recommended reading includes: a news report about worldwide beliefs in the imminent End of Everything (to which I’ve added a recent local television news report about a doomsday-type drill that was run at Chicago-area hospitals); multiple articles and essays about Jung, psychology, consciousness, science, and spirituality; information about early psychological warfare studies and Big Pharma’s mission to hook us all on lifetime drugs; our collective transformation into a high-tech dystopia with “sentient cities” and a digital Dark Age; and a man who claims he was part of a secret (and successful) DARPA program that experimented with time travel.

Read the rest of this entry

Saying goodbye to the “God particle”?

Well, crap. Not even a month ago the news was this:

God particle: Existence to be confirmed by 2012” — Physicists directing research through the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) have announced that the existence of the sub-atomic “God particle” will be decided by the end of 2012. For many years, scientists have speculated the existence of the particle, also called the Higgs boson particle, but have not been able to provide any proof to corroborate the fact. However, at the International Europhysics Conference on High-Energy Physics in Grenoble, France, this past weekend, researchers presented some curious data bleeps that could hint the existence of such a particle. (Christian Post, July 26, 2011)

But now it’s this:

Evidence of elusive ‘God particle’ fades” — International scientists searching to solve the greatest riddle in all of physics said Monday that signs are fading of the elusive Higgs-Boson particle, which is believed to give objects mass. Just last month, physicists announced at a European conference that a big atom-smasher experiment had shown tantalizing hints of the Higgs-Boson, as the search to identify the particle enters the final stretch with results expected late next year. Sometimes described as the “God particle” because it is such a mystery yet such a potent force of nature, the Higgs-Boson — if it exists — represents the final piece of the Standard Model of physics. “At this moment we don’t see any evidence for the Higgs in the lower mass region where it is likely to be,” said physicist Howard Gordon, deputy US ATLAS operations program manager. ATLAS is the biggest particle collider lab at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC). (The Raw Story, August 22, 2011)

The headline from Reuters is even more discouraging: “Higgs boson may be a mirage, scientists hint.”

At least they gave us a consolation prize:

“Whatever the final verdict on Higgs, we are now living in very exciting times for all involved in the quest for new physics,” Guido Tonelli, from one of the two LHC detectors chasing the Higgs, said as the new observations were announced.

Yeah, yeah. I still want a God particle.

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Glimpses of ultimate reality in Mozart and quantum physics

Quantum MozartAs somebody who A) adores the music of Mozart, B) feels positively overcome by the intimations of an agonizing ultimate beauty in Amadeus, and C) has been fascinated by the metaphysical and philosophical implications of quantum physics for decades, aided by such things as a love for Robert Anton Wilson‘s writings and worthy popular expositions like John Gribbin’s In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat, I was struck today by the evocative power of a beautiful statement I came across in a recent a science article for The Wall Street Journal.

Science, Spirituality, and Some Mismatched Socks” (May 5), by WSJ journalist Gautam Naik, looks at the issue of “spooky” behavior in the quantum universe, that is, the long-established mystery of apparently instantaneous (as in, faster-than-light-speed, which flouts the theory of relativity) communication between subatomic particles. The fact that the laws of physical reality as we are famliar with them from regular daily experience, and also from the branches of science other than quantum physics, appear to be ignored and violated at the subatomic level has long been a source of much consternation and fascination. The aforementioned Robert Anton Wilson got a lot of mileage out of this in his quasi-fictional novels and quasi-nonfictional nonfiction books. I myself made use of it to horrific metaphysical effect in my novelette “Teeth,” first published in print six years ago in The Children of Cthulhu and due to be included, in much revised and expanded form (with the quantum physics stuff intact), later this year in my new book, Dark Awakenings.

As sketched briefly in the WSJ article’s opening paragraphs, Einstein himself, the world’s unofficial physicist-in-chief, disagreed that “deep” reality really could be the way quantum physics would seem to suggest — but he may well have been wrong in this:

One of quantum physics’ crazier notions is that two particles seem to communicate with each other instantly, even when they’re billions of miles apart. Albert Einstein, arguing that nothing travels faster than light, dismissed this as impossible “spooky action at a distance.”

The great man may have been wrong. A series of recent mind-bending laboratory experiments has given scientists an unprecedented peek behind the quantum veil, confirming that this realm is as mysterious as imagined.

The article goes on to sketch the history and then discuss recent developments in the study of quantum spookiness, in directions previewed by the slugline: “Researchers Turn Up Evidence of ‘Spooky’ Quantum Behavior and Put It to Work in Encryption and Philosophy.”

The line that blew me away comes at the very end. Here it is, in context with its preceding two paragraphs, which set the scene:

Because of its bizarre implications, quantum theory has been used to investigate everything from free will and the paranormal to the enigma of consciousness. Several serious physicists have devoted their lives to the study of such ideas, including Bernard d’Espagnat. In March, the 87-year-old Frenchman won the prestigious $1.5 million Templeton Prize for years of work affirming “life’s spiritual dimension.”

Based on quantum behavior, Dr. d’Espagnat’s big idea is that science can only probe so far into what is real, and there’s a “veiled reality” that will always elude us.

Many scientists disagree. While Dr. d’Espagnat concedes that he can’t prove his theory, he argues that it’s about the notion of mystery. “The emotions you get from listening to Mozart,” he says, “are like the faint glimpses of ultimate reality we get” from quantum experiments. “I claim nothing more.”