Who’s Spinning the Planet?

I saw a sign the other day that nearly made me drive off the road. It was in front of a church. (Yup. Buckle up.) It said:

“Did the LORD wake you up this morning? No? Who rotates earth?”

Oh, where to begin.

First of all, I instantly got this image of the sign creator gleefully looking at his work and saying, “Yes! Finally! Proof that God exists that NO ONE can argue with!!!!”

I weep for humanity.

To be absolutely clear, this blog post is not about whether or not God exists. I’m not going there. I have a cold, and that’s much too meaty a topic for me to dig into at the moment.

No. This post is about the ignorance of Man and the stupidity, in particular, of this sign.

In the Trump era, I’m kinda getting used to people taking absurd leaps in logic. Mostly I just shake my head sadly and move on. But to ask who’s spinning the planet, you must first believe that in order for the planet to spin, some entity or other must be spinning it.

To that, I can only respond, “Kindly get your head out of the stone age and join the rest of us in 2019.”  Anyone with a passing concept of the laws of physics knows that there’s no one sitting at a gigantic pottery wheel in the sky, tediously spinning, spinning, spinning our world for us. If that were necessary, it would be a horribly cruel job to saddle someone with. It sounds more like a task to give someone who is residing in hell.

That there are people out there who have never taken physics or learned of gravity or heard of Copernicus doesn’t surprise me overmuch. (Saddens me, yes, surprises me, no.) But in order to take this sign seriously, you have to believe in witchcraft. Your society would have to be at the developmental stage where you think that you must provide a blood sacrifice in order to make the sun rise each day. You’d have to wear bones in your nose and club your women and drag them into your cave.

If your spiritual belief includes a higher power, I hope that he, she, or it is sophisticated enough to not be wasting time on the minutiae. Because there’s a lot of work to do up in this mo’ fo’. There’s no time for dilly dallying.

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A Capella Science

I love that delicious point where art and science intersect. I don’t encounter it nearly enough for my liking, so when I do, I savor it. It seems as though most minds go in one direction or the other. It’s a rare one that appreciates both. That why such minds, and their creations, are priceless. Leonardo da Vinci, with his art and inventions, springs to mind.

So imagine my delight when a friend (waving at Mor) turned me on to the A Capella Science guy on Youtube. Tim Blais just got his master’s degree in physics, and he also happens to have the voice of an angel, and from what I can tell, is a consummate videographer as well. Such creativity, such profound intelligence. All in one delightful package.

Among his many creations is a song about string theory to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody, a song about the saurian origin of birds to the tune of More Than Words, and a song about CRISPR to the tune of Mr. Sandman.

What I love most about Tim Blais is that I’m sure he’s getting people interested in science topics that they wouldn’t have previously explored. He’s making science cool. No. I take that back. Science was already cool. He’s just making a lot more of us realize it.

I think I can speak for all the creative nerds out there when I say, “Thanks, Tim!”

Tim Blais

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Melatonin Dreams

My dreams are strange at the best of times, but when I take Melatonin to help me sleep, I seem to descend into a Seuss-like subbasement of my subconscious, a place where only Salvador Dali would feel at home.

One time I dreamed that there were several giraffes walking on water, headed straight toward my drawbridge. I was afraid I wouldn’t get the bridge opened on time, but I did. As a matter of fact, I opened it so quickly that it flew apart and came crashing down, tons of concrete and steel missing me by inches. And yet the giraffes ambled on, without so much as a fare-thee-well. They must have been late for a very important date. The nerve of some water-walking mammals.

Dreams like that make me avoid Melatonin. I only take it as a last resort, when I’m so desperate to sleep that any warped delusion is superior to tossing and turning. It never fails to knock me out. It just leaves my unconscious mind to fend for itself.

But I can’t really blame the Melatonin, can I? I mean, it didn’t put that imagery in my brain. It had to have been there all along. The Melatonin simply sets it free.

And that makes me wonder what else is lurking in my mental warehouse. I bet there are creatures in there that I have yet to encounter. Beings with magical powers that I hope are used for good, not evil. People and things that are capable of walking on Escher’s staircases. Floating islands of thought, drifting in a psychedelic sea of creativity.

It kind of makes me feel as though I’m carrying around, deep within me, a savory stew of untapped potential. It’s strange to think that there are places in my head where I have never been, where the rules of physics are merely suggestions, and anything could happen.

How exciting! How scary.

19 Salvador Dali Mysterious Mouth Appearing in the Back of My Nurse, 1941

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Time Machines

I was sitting with a couple of friends the other day (waving at Caly and Mor) and we embarked on a flight of fancy, a sort of thought experiment about time machines. And now I can’t get it out of my head. I don’t know if this will reveal as much about the subject matter as it does about how my mind works and how I view society, but there you have it.

In most science fiction stories that I’ve read about time travel, the main concerns seem to be changing the future and/or running into yourself. I think there is a lot more to worry about than that. A whole lot more.

I sincerely believe that humanity’s main motivator is greed, so the first thing that people would do is try to figure out a way to make money from this invention. And at first it wouldn’t be very hard. Since today’s money would buy a lot more yesterday, you’d simply have to convert to the gold standard to avoid pesky questions like, “What’s a Euro?” from the people of the 1400’s, and then buy up everything in sight.

Of course, as all the gold flooded into the past, that would make the present time economy rather hard to navigate. So the next step would be making sure that you and yours were well positioned, and the best way to do that would be to give your ancestors an unfair advantage. Get them the gold, have them buy up the real estate, and when the gold runs out, then it’s time to give them modern day weapons. That would make for some scary times. If my AK47 encounters your bow and arrow, who do you think would win?

Another advantage would be in the form of increased health. If you could make sure your relatives thrive during the plague, wouldn’t you do it? And that would definitely put them in positions of power and influence.

And then, of course, there’s the ability to foretell the “future”. As in, you might not want to be in San Francisco on April 18, 1906, when the great earthquake is going to hit. But on the other hand, you could make a fortune selling tents, food and water in the aftermath.

But while predicting natural disasters would remain constant, what would change drastically is human events, as the future would be in a constant state of flux. For example, would World War II occur if a different group of people survived the black plague and produced an entirely different population?

I for one am glad that the laws of physics make it highly unlikely that we’ll overcome the concept of time, because we humans have a knack for mucking things up. I certainly wouldn’t want to be around to see the consequences.

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[Image credit: silosnapa.com]

Better Living through Alchemy

Alchemy fascinates me, primarily because it cannot really be pinned down. Historians cannot be sure of their actual pursuits or motivations in spite of the fact that alchemists documented much, because what they did document was often cryptic and nonsensical and in obscure code. Were they focused primarily on spirituality, pseudo-science, or charlatanism?

It is known that they drew heavily on spirituality, philosophy and astrology, and yet had a fundamental influence on modern day chemistry, physics, medicine, metallurgy and the scientific method. We can also credit alchemists with the invention of gunpowder, and of the words “alcohol” and “elixir”. Isaac Newton was heavily into alchemy.

Many alchemists focused on the pursuit of the philosopher’s stone, a substance which could either turn base metals into gold or was the elixir of life. (The fact that we can’t be certain of which of the two was the more prevailing belief is one of the many things I love about alchemy.) Some claimed to believe that if you can purify gold, you can purify the human soul.

But given that I have the soul of a cynic, I tend to think that they were primarily motivated not by spirituality or the improvement of mankind, but by greed. Who doesn’t want gold? But that just goes to show that they were weak in another area: basic economics. If they could have produced gold, it would surely have flooded the market, and that substance would have become as worthless as lead. Centuries of experiments, all for nothing. What cruel irony.

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College Later in Life: A New Perspective on Professors

The first time I went to college I was 18 years old, and I had struggled so hard to be there that I kind of looked upon the professors as Gods. They constituted this great pantheon of pedagoguery and I was eager to soak up whatever knowledge they saw fit to impart. I didn’t question their motives or their philosophies. I just feasted on the crumbs of their wisdom and considered myself lucky for the meal. But at the same time, I considered that meal an automatic golden ticket toward my unquestionable future success. Silly me.

Thirty years later when I decided to return to school, my perspective had changed greatly. I still had respect for the teaching profession. I always will. But the professors had become my contemporaries, and as such I could only view them as flawed human beings. And this time I took the knowledge they imparted greedily, like a person lost in the desert desperate for water. I needed this information to get on with my life. I needed it to change my fate. (Little did I know it would turn out to be a massive waste of time and money, but I’ve already covered that in my blog entry Back to School at 46.)

So when my Physics teacher turned out to be a sexist pig who was stuck in the dark ages, I wasn’t as shocked as I would have been decades previously. I was just massively irritated and felt protective of the younger students who couldn’t see the outrageous behavior for what it was: unacceptable.

Here are just a few of this man’s pearls of wisdom.

  • For some reason he got on the subject of the health food store where he shops. He mentioned that the clerk there was so good looking that, “ladies, you’d know just what to do with him.”
  • He stated that he wouldn’t sell his used vehicle to a female because if it broke down, a female couldn’t walk, whereas a male could.
  • He stated that he felt comfortable letting his girlfriend pilot his boat, because after all, it only has two gears, so a female should be able to handle that. (He was serious!)
  • He constantly called female students “Sweetie” or “Sweetheart” or “Honey”.
  • When one student apologized for missing class because her car broke down, he said, “You’re good looking, got all the guys around you, they’ll fix it.”
  • He told that same girl in a separate incident, “I’ll want an autograph when you’re Miss America in a couple years.”
  • Every single class, he would tell at least one female that she was good looking.

The general consensus of the students I talked to seemed to be that he was “creepy” because he was saying things that someone his age should not be saying to people their age. What they were not yet mature enough to understand, I feared, is that “creepy” is unacceptable.

After a great deal of soul searching, I decided that I had to report the guy because I doubted that the 19 year old girls in the class would have the courage or the life experience to do so. This man had been with the school for 20 years. He needed to be made aware that his actions were grossly inappropriate. He should not be allowed to make female students squirm simply because they needed his class and had paid good money to attend it.

Needless to say, my report caused a major uproar. I got called in to the Dean’s office and it wasn’t just the Dean sitting there. It was an entire panel. I told them the story, I answered questions. I gave them details. They asked me what I wanted to happen.

I told them I wasn’t looking to get anyone fired in this economy, and that in fact the man really did know his physics, but his behavior had to change. He needed to be called on the carpet, trained and monitored. They said they would do all of the above.

I honestly doubt it made much difference, but it made me feel better, and it also made me realize that I had come a long way since my first college experience.

And I have to admit I got a bit of a cheap thrill from the fact that the man got to read my written report and therefore learned that he’s considered a creepy old man. If he came away with nothing else, he’ll have that morsel to chew upon whilst he examines his crows feet in the mirror.

The truth hurts, sweetie.

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Fantasy Island

I just got through reading an article on the NPR website entitled, “Pacific Island, Bigger Than Manhattan, Vanishes.” I assumed it was going to be about global warming, and that maybe it had sunk below the rising sea level, but no. Based upon studies of the sea floor, this island never existed in the first place. Apparently this “island” has been on maps and charts since around 1772. And now they’re looking at other questionable islands in other parts of the world in order to update maps.

fantasy_island_by_tessig-d4w7qz5 (Credit: Tessig.deviantart.com)

Can we just take a second to absorb this? In this day and age, with all our global whosawhatsis, how does this happen? It makes you realize how vast the world is, and how much we want to believe what we’re told. But I still find it vaguely unsettling. If we can’t count on our geography, what can we count on?

Here’s the thing. When my mother died when I was 26, I felt as though there was no longer any solid foundation beneath my feet, as though everything that I counted on had suddenly vanished and I was adrift. It took me a long time to get over that. A very long time. I will never forget that feeling.

Without getting into a debate about quantum physics, we count on things to be solid, to have substance. And we expect islands the size of Manhattan to stick around. This is why I could never live in an earthquake zone. To have something solid suddenly start rippling like water? I’d have a nervous breakdown.

There has to be some fundamental…thing that you can hang your hat on, and build from there. Without that, how do you know what’s real? It reminds me of a quote from the Spanish dramatist Pedro Calderón de la Barca, which translates as, “Life is a dream, and even the dreams are dreams.”

The Pope and Higgs Boson: Too Much God to Digest all at Once?

So, we have a new Pope. That’s a load off. Not that I’m Catholic, mind you, but I think it’s never a good thing to have a vacancy for the position of God’s representative on earth, do you? He’s from Argentina, he’s chosen the name Francis, and he’s a Jesuit. All of these things are firsts, and for the Catholic Church, firsts are usually avoided, so this impresses me. And the fact that he was never a Hitler Youth is a big fat plus in my book. He’s also the first Pope in 600 years to have to deal with a Pope Emeritus, which can’t be easy, but so far he seems to be handling it with aplomb (a word I don’t get the opportunity to use very often).

During the great outpouring of admiration that we’ve all witnessed, you learn that he is a man of the people. He’s humble. He cares about the poor. He has held mass for the homeless and the prostitutes of Buenos Aires. He wants to be a populist Pope. Again, all wonderful things.

But I’m having a bit of trouble reconciling all of the above with what the Christian News Service says about him:

“In 2010, when Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage, Cardinal Bergoglio encouraged clergy across the country to tell Catholics to protest against the legislation because, if enacted, it could ‘seriously injure the family,’ he said.

He also said adoption by same-sex couples would result in ‘depriving [children] of the human growth that God wanted them given by a father and a mother.’”

CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips says that until now, Pope Francis’ conservative views on birth control, homosexuality and women’s roles in the Church have not made him popular with his relatively progressive Jesuit brothers. That, to me, is a bad sign. If you are a steadfast conservative within a progressive group, what does this say about your ability to be a Pope who listens to Catholics in the modern world, particularly ones with diverging viewpoints?

How can you be a Pope of the people and shun homosexuals? These are our brothers, our sisters, our nieces, our nephews. Are you saying that pedophilia is more acceptable? It certainly seems to be in many areas of the church. And how can you view women as subordinate in the 21st century? Our mothers, our sisters, our daughters. And most important of all, how can you preach to prostitutes and yet believe that birth control is a sin? Isn’t that tantamount to a death sentence for them?

It will be interesting to see what message he brings to those countries in Africa where entire populations are on the verge of extinction due to AIDS. When it has been proven, time and time again, even by your own priests, that abstinence is not going to work, it’s time to wake up and move into the present. But that is probably way too much to ask of a man who is 76 years old, and a religion that is at least 1900 years old.

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In other news, the very next day in CERN, they announced that they’re confident they’ve discovered the God particle, also known as the Higgs Boson. According to Hayley Dixon of the Telegraph, “Finding the Higgs plugs a gaping hole in the Standard Model of physics, the theory that describes all the particles, forces and interactions that make up the universe.” That, my friends, is HUGE. In my opinion, Higgs Boson is where God and science intersect. And I firmly believe that they can intersect, if you have an open mind.

According to CBS News, it is “the subatomic particle predicted nearly a half-century ago, which will go a long way toward explaining what gives electrons and all matter in the universe size and shape.”

WHY ISN’T EVERYONE TALKING ABOUT THIS? I’m stumped. I guess the building blocks of the universe got overwhelmed in the news cycle that is Pope Francis. And that’s a shame, because if you have any faith whatsoever, both of these events will have a sweeping impact upon you, whether you’re aware of it or not.

Or maybe it’s just that we mere mortals can only digest so much God in one sitting. Either way, hold on to your hats. This is going to be a bumpy, albeit fascinating, ride.