Posts Tagged ‘science’

Crossing the Great Divide

December 26, 2019

Life is flexible and creative.

Mathematics is different from life; it is definite and conclusive.

When certain modern mathematicians recently figured out—and admitted— that equations can not account for all truth about life itself, they actually enabled themselves to make a quantum leap forward in human communications.

What George Gilder calls the mathematics of information theory is actually a “math of creativity.”

Human creativity is required to make this math work properly. If humans would not intervene—if we were to choose not to intervene, not to tweak, not to program—our stupid, soul-less computers would “churn away forever.”

Caught up in a never-ending loop—that’s what computers would do if we didn’t manage them and tell them what to do.

How did such a bright idea enlighten the computering pioneers of our 20th-21st century progress?

In his book, Life After Google, George Gilder describes a series of progressive mathematical proofs that eventually brought us to an advanced stage of modern mathematics. Beginning mainly with Isaac Newton, these theorems collectively lead, step-by-step, to a system of proven mathematical truths.

But the mathematicians ran into a problem—a dead end. The roadblock showed up shortly after a certain fellow, David Hilbert, came along and, being absolutely  sure that we could express all knowledge mathematically, famously said: “We must know; we will know!”

It seems to me David was gathering his sustenance from an old source that was long ago proven unreliable; it was, I surmise, that phenom that Moses called the “Tree of Knowledge.”

Actually, it was a little while later that his assistant—a fellow named John von Neumann—provided the missing link that exposed Hilbert’s wishful thinking for what is was.

Along those link lines, George Gilder provides in his book a list of other mathematicians and scientists whose work contributed to John von Neumann’s breakthrough. The list includes Kurt Gödel, Gregory Chaitin, Hubert Yockey, Alan Turing, Claude Shannon.

George Gilder explains. . .

“Gödel’s insights led directly to Claude Shannon’s information theory, which underlies all computers and networks today.”

In the midst of this move forward away from mathematical determinism and into creative computing, the contribution of John von Neumann was to encourage Gödel in his emerging proof that absolute mathematical proof was impossible.

Along this path of computing enlightenment, Gilder points out that

“Gödel’s proof prompted Alan Turing’s invention in 1936 of the Turing machine—the universal computing architecture with which he showed that computer programs, like other logical schemes, were not only incomplete but could not even be proved to reach any conclusion. Any particular program might cause it (the computer) to churn away forever. This was the ‘halting problem.’Computers required what Turing called ‘oracles’ to give them instructions and judge their outputs.”

Those “oracles” are human beings. Guess what: Computers need us if they’re going to work correctly!

George Gilder goes on to explain in his book that this creative guidance from us, homo sapiens, is what leads, and has lead to, all the computer progress we have seen in modern times.

Along that path of progress, Larry and Sergei came along and harnessed all that creative oracularity into a thing called Google.

You may have heard of it.

My takeaway is that, back in the dawn of the computer age . . . while Hilbert was chowing down on the Tree of Knowledge, his assistant Von Neumann managed to pluck some life-sustaining nourishment from the Tree of Life.


Along those lines, here’s a cool quote from George Gilder:

“Cleaving all information is(:) the great divide between creativity and determinism, between information entropy of surprises and thermo-dynamic entropy of predictable decline, between stories that capture a particular truth and statistics that reveal a sterile generality.”

 Maybe you have to be a computer nerd to process all that quote in your very own CPU, or you may be like me and just read a lot . . .

King of Soul

The Mysterious Door

June 24, 2018

The great physicist, James Clerk Maxwell, had a problem in 1867. It was a very old problem; many had tried to solve it before he came along. It wasn’t actually his problem to fix, but merely to figure it out; his objective was to try and determine who or what had already solved “the problem”. Because, you see, the matter had already been taken care of long, long ago.

Otherwise none of us would be here; nothing would be here.

The actual problem-solver who had worked it out was not thought to be credible at the time of Maxwell’s work. The problem-solver’s presumptuous  representatives had made such a mess of things.

Consequently, in the 1800’s, the scientific community placed little or no credence in what the so-called Church had to say about anything—especially presumably scientific matters like the origin and unfolding of the Universe.

19th-century scientists and other serious researchers like Darwin, Marx and many others were all in a tizzy about throwing the God idea out with the bath water. It was a leap of faith instead of a rational inference. They did have some legitimate arguments about the Church’s faith-based input, because the so-called Church had made such a mess of things while they were running the show back in the middle ages. Two especially bad screwed-ups the Church had done happened when they had, earlier, rejected the findings of Copernicus and Galileo.

But you betcha the mystery still lay unsolved when the science boys took over, long about 1800 or so. They were working on the mystery intently. And so Mr. Maxwell, diligent Scot that he was, took hold of the mantle in 1867, as many others were doing at the time, and he gave it a shot—solving the riddle.

The question of how all this happened.

This existence, this world we live in—how did it get here?

There was, you see, a piece missing in this great puzzle of existence.

In the chain of events that ostensibly took place when the universe was made, there was a missing link that no one had been able to figure out. So, James Clerk Maxwell tackled the question, striving to solve the riddle of the missing link.

Therefore Dr. Maxwell came up with what he called the “Demon.” My unschooled opinion says he could have chosen a better word. . . something like what Rene Descartes had termed it, the Prime Mover.

As Peter Hoffman gives an explanation of Maxwell’s work, the Scot posed this profound question:

“How can molecular machines extract work from the uniform-temperature environment of cells without violating the second law of thermodynamics?”

In other words, how can atoms and molecules organize themselves to become something more than what they already are—just a bunch of damn molecules kicking around like unemployed vagrants?

Or to put it yet another way: How could life have come out of dead particles?

And so, as Dr. Maxwell pondered the problem of the missing link in 1867, he came up with the idea of (what was later called Maxwell’s. . .) Demon.

Peter M. Hoffman explains it, in his 2012 book, Life’s Ratchet,       this way:

“Maxwell’s demon . . . was a a tiny hypothetical creature who controlled a little door separating two gas-filled chambers, which initially have the same average temperature. The job of the demon was to separate gas molecules into fast and slow molecules. . . Starting from a uniform-temperature system, the demon had created a temperature gradient—making one side cold and the other side hot. . . This temperature gradient could now be used to do work if a little turbine could be placed in the demon’s door.”

The analogy of a demon is not, of course, to be taken literally. James Maxwell was a brilliant physicist whose work paralleled Einstein’s. His use of the hypothetical creature is merely a literary device to communicate the function of an unidentified catalyst that makes something constructive happen in an environment in which (theoretically) nothing can happen.

Obviously something did happen, back in the days of universe origin, or we wouldn’t be here. Nothing would be here, if the problem had not been solved. Someone, demon or otherwise, must have worked it out.

Rene Descartes, a mathematician who lived in the 1600’s, had stumbled upon the same dilemma. He had posited the idea of a Prime Mover, which seemed pretty logical at the time.

Still does, if you ask me.

An original cause (as in cause in effect), that caused everything else to happen, big bang blah blah etc. and so forth and so on.

But what diligent mathematicians and scientists neglected to mention was that the problem had long ago been solved by a mysterious entity who had been so erroneously represented by the so-called Church: God.

Not a demon, but God. The demons were the created beings who tried to pull rank on the Creator, YWHeh.

Therefore, in order to now— in the 21st-century— give credit where credit is due . . .


I say it was a notable accomplishment what YWHeh did, when he solved the problem of the missing link, way back in time. And he said so.

He said it was good— in the first chapter of his bestseller, Genesis.

It was good when He separated light from darkness. Genesis 1:4:

“God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.”

This “separation” function is no chance development. It needed to happen. It’s no coincidence that Maxwell’s demon and Creator YWHeh both are depicted as having “separated” something from something else. . .  The Separator’s accomplishment was functionally something like Maxwell’s presumed demon’s task of separating molecules into two different energy levels in order to create

“a temperature difference between the chambers without expending work, thus seemingly violating the second law.”

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is the law that YWHeh seems to have broken when he started the ball of the universe rolling. But it didn’t matter if he broke that “Law” because he set up the whole kitnkiboodle anyway, back in the Day. That 2nd Law of Thermodynamics was an idea that we came up to try and explain it all. It wasn’t something that YWHeh declared when he declared Let there be light and so forth and so on.

On Day 1 (whatever that means to you) the Prime Mover separated light from darkness, and the rest is history.

Not bad for a day’s work, YHWeh. Keep up the good work.

Glass Chimera 

Re: Logos generating Order out of Chaos

January 23, 2018

If a human can hang around in this life long enough to reach maturity, he/she is probably lucky, or blessed, or both; and by the time that person reaches maturity he/she has probably pondered the question of where all this stuff in the world came from.

Perhaps it all evolved from the Big Bang; or maybe God created it all.

Generally I find that people who like to think a lot are likely to lean toward the Big Bang and/or Evolution as a path toward rationalizing the physical universe; and it seems to me that people who stay busy with the business of living, without being too analytical about it, will typically lean toward Religion or Faith as a way of dealing with life’s persistent questions.

What’s important is that we can all find a way to tolerate each other in the midst of these two world-view polarities. If we don’t find a way to live in peace and productivity then we might really screw this thing up and render the world uninhabitable.

No matter which of these two camps you may find yourself drawn to, you must admit that if this universe were not founded upon some organizing principle, we would have nothing except perhaps a bunch of cosmic dust floating around the universe.

How, for instance, how can you account for the fact that every atom has a nucleus of protons and neutrons, with electrons orbiting around it?

How did the first atom get organized?

That’s the microcosmic question. Now here’s the same conundrum on a macro level:  How can you account for the fact that the Sun has Planets orbiting around it?

Did it all just happen, or did something/someone organize it?

Perhaps it all evolved from the Big Bang; or maybe God created it all.

Now we in this postmodern period of human of human history have generally divided ourselves into two categories concerning these important questions.

At the risk of oversimplifying the issue, let me just propose that we could say some of us are in the Rational camp and others of us are in the Religious camp.

I myself try to be a sojourner in both of these universes, but that’s neither here nor there.

I use the word Rational to classify the folks who like to use data and their brains to figure out all this stuff, because Rational suggests that by their thinking they can actually figure most of it out enough to proceed with the business of living life intelligently.

I use the word Religious to classify the folks who prefer to depend on faith or theological revelation to account for this world, and then use their faith to inform and fortify their life decisions.

Now here’s the rub.

Whichever of these two camps you find yourself drawn to, you must admit that there are still some questions that your chosen system of thought/belief will not fully answer.

There are some things we just don’t know!


You Rationalist, can you prove how quantum mechanics or whatever made arrangements for a nuclear proton to serve as the center-point for that first atom?

You Religious person, can you prove that there’s a Just God who allows such evil as we see in this world to exist?

But these challenges are rhetorical.

We cannot prove the veracity of an answer to either of the above challenges. If a Rationalist could prove to me how the first atom was organized, I would probably not understand the proof. If a Religionist could explain how or why God allows evil, I would likely disagree with him/her on some point, based upon my cultural religious heritage.

There is an end-point (or a beginning point) to both world-view systems where another unknown prevents absolute conclusion of the matter.

There are some things we just don’t know.

At the end of any unanswerable question, however, we surely do discover that an assumption, or thesis, is required if we are going move beyond indecision.

Or we could say it like this: at the end of every Rational thought progression is necessarily found (reap ‘em and weep) a Leap.

A leap of faith, if you’ll forgive my trench, because you can’t know everything.

Maybe you’ve figured out that this world is going to hell in a carbon-basket.

What else is new?

We faith-based types understand that not everything can be figured out or calculated. So most of us concede to this perplexity by subscribing to divine revelation for our cosmological answers.

And there are enough of us religious types out here to assure you that all humanity will not be driven into agreement about what is to be done to save us. After all, we still yet fail to agree on whose god is the correct one and what would that supreme being requires of us.

We’re into day-to-day living; many of us are just getting by.

So do your data thing. Collect your Big Data. Have a good time with it. Drill your polar ice cores and try to arrive at conclusions that will convince us billions of blockheads out here in Peoria or flyover country or working class lala land.

Consider this. Going back to middle school science. . .

At the end of every Geological Age on Earth we find a change of climate. Looking forward, exactly how it will work out in the next shift we do not know because there are too many variables to predict or calculate.

Yes there are too many variables, too many individual decisions to be made, too many quantum mechanics, too many people—to come into agreement about how to solve the  problem. And any Final Solution would not be appropriate.

Even if there is one school of scientists who figure out all these warming consequences, can the vast mass of humanity be manipulated into getting with the program enough to make a difference?

No. We billions would have to be cajoled, intimidated, manipulated, deprived of our life, liberty and pursuits of happiness to go along with the program. You can’t teach an old dog’s-life new carbon tricks; we’ve been throwing soot into the air ever since we figured out how to make fire.

Try to convince us, if you must, of what’s to be done to arrest global warming. My personal opinion is you are probably correct. Our depraved pollutive ways have probably already sunk the ship.

So Good luck with that.

Educate the masses if you can, but don’t get too excited about it. Most of us are dim bulbs compared to the Enlightenment that would be required to activate such a tectonic shift in human behavior.

Changing the consumptive habits of entire human population is about as likely as getting us all rounded up to shag in a Pangaean prom.

So give us a break.  Try to convince us if you can, because we are, believe it or not, paying attention.

But don’t be taking away our civil liberties, and don’t be messing’ with our faith-based solutions to life’s persistent questions.

Forget not the words of our great prairie home companion: Do good work, and keep in touch.

And remember also these words that were, back in the day, crooned by the king of Rock’n’roll:

Don’t ya step on my blue suede shoes.


King of Soul

The Sacred Place

September 26, 2015

This world is a wonderful place, but it’s also a terrible place. We are not in agreement here about a lot of things. The human family is all torn up as a result of our disagreements. So what else is new.

Well here’s something new for me, but it’s actually a reshaped experience of an old conundrum.

It started yesterday when my wife and daughter I, who are presently on the big island of Hawaii, took a drive in the rental car up onto the slopes of Mauna Kea volcano.

It was a large experience: there we went crawling, in a mid-sized automobile as any tourist would do, up the slope of this massive hunk of hardened magma, which had piled up 32,000 feet from the Pacific Ocean floor, to a peak 13,796 feet above sea level.

We didn’t go all the way to the top, because having no 4WD limited our ascent. Of course, as tourists, we wouldn’t be taking the time to hike the rest of the way to up, so we satisfied ourselves with what was available at the Visitors’ Center, as most “visitors” or tourists probably do.

We arrived at this little outpost/equipment store/educational display that is the the Visitor’s Center, and bailed out of the car to have a look around. It’s at about 9300 ft. above sea level. With some disappointment at not having reached the summit, I decided, as most tourists who stop here do, to check out the what was inside the small building.

I learned a lot up here, three quarters of the way up Mauna Kea. There were two information sources:

~the instructional video about the Mauna Kea volcano itself, its history, and the scientific station up on top with very high-tech telescopes.

~the vigilant We Are Mauna Kea representatives, across the road, who were protesting further developments on the summit.

The video inside was very impressive, and informative. You can probably find it online somewhere. For my purposes here, I’ll say merely that the big picture for the scientists seems to be exploring, visually through super-telescopes and scientifically through electromagnetic data collection, the outer regions of our solar system and beyond. I can appreciate this, find it interesting, but its pretty much beyond my down-to-earth curiosities.

The protesters across the road had set up a small Hale, a special shelter made of stones and leafy coverings. At its entrance was a stylized artistic rendering of Queen Liliuokalani with her fist raised high in the air. This was interesting to me. Having developed an interest in Hawaii’s last reigning monarch, I had read her biography during a previous trip to Oahu. Queen Liliuokalani’s life was so interesting to me that I had included parts of her story in my 2007 novel, Glass half-Full. But I always thought of her very regally, as a queen, not typically standing with her fist in the air. But that’s the position in which she was depicted at this protest site.


A cheerful, young woman there explained to me that they especially want to prevent construction of a newly proposed 18-story high observatory. She handed me a printed page which was quite professional-looking and concise, with an explanation of their We Are Mauna Kea objectives. My reading of it later unearthed another objection of theirs– the disruption/excavation of 8 acres and 64,000 cubic yards of public lands. The basis of their protest is stated with several points listed. The first one is:

Mauna Kea is a Wao Akua, a holy realm, a sacred piko.

About an hour later, as we departed that place of instruction and confliction, my heart and mind were disagreeing with each other about the controversy between these two camps of human beings– the Sacred Place Savers who were protesting, and the Knowledge Gatherers who were erecting tall telescopes in order to learn more about the expanding universe.

This is a little bit like the ancient dilemma of mankind: choosing between the Tree of Life or the Tree of Knowledge.

Who is to say what place is sacred?

Who is to say what place is useful?

The protesters’ plaintive objections reminded me of a song I wrote and recorded many years ago. It’s a tuneful lament that touches on this great divide between two different people groups of mankind:

Sitting Bull’s Eyes

I wrote the song In 1978, which was about the same my time my life fell apart in a big way, and I turned to the Creator of the Universe for some help. I then returned to the faith of my fathers and mothers, which is Christ.

As my walk with the Lord through this life has progressed for lo, these many years since that time, I have from time to time studied the sacred places and beliefs of different people. In human history, we can find thousands of incidents of one trive desecrating the sacred places and beliefs of another tribe, or one religion destroying the sacred places of another religion. Rather than trying to cite them all, I’ll just mention one particular example, which is the one I know the most about.

In the history of my own faith heritage, for instance, I find:

~Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar desecrated the Jewish temple in Jerusalem

~Seleucid conquerer Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated that same temple

~Titus the Roman general/emperor destroyed that temple

~Muslims later occupied the sacred mountain in Jerusalem where the temple had stood

~Christians  took that site from the Muslims

~Muslims took it back

~In 1967, the Jewish people regained possession of their sacred temple mount in Jerusalem. But being sensitive to potential destructive forces of politics and religion, they wisely decided to maintain the Muslim ascendancy that had fallen upon that holy place, leaving their own people, the Jews, to pray at the sacred wall beneath.

~Here’s my spiritual attachment to that sacred site in Jerusalem. It started with a man named Paul in the first century AD. He was Jewish, but had a new vision, based on the work of Jesus the Christ. Paul was the primary expositor of the Christian faith (which I later accepted as my own). He traveled all around present-day Lebanon, Turkey, Macedonia, Greece and Rome preaching that the truly sacred place of the most High God is found not in the temples erected by  men, but in the souls of men and women who believe in Jesus the Christ.

Sacred is not found in a place or thing, but in the hearts of men and women who believe, and act in accordance with their faith.

So from my Christian perspective, or perhaps any other person whose values were influenced by being raised in the post-Christian Western culture, who cares about whether a place is sacred or not?

Well, there is a very important attribute of human relationships that I have come to admire when I see it in people: Respect.

Respect for others, and for their traditions. Respect others as you would want to be respected.

Meanwhile, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaiians of ancient heritage strive without success to prevent the high-tech wizards of our modern age from desecrating their sacred place. Who is going to win out here?

I think you know who will prevail in this Mauna Kea situation. It seems it has always been this way. The strong throw their weight around like bulls in a china shop and destroy all that is holy and sacred of what remains among the indigenous and weakened peoples.

Has it always been this way?

Yes. This is the history of the world as we know it.

Will it always be this way?

Who knows? Not me. But a wise Teacher wrote long ago:

“I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all.”

We shall see about that.

And the greatest Teacher of all said: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

But who is a peacemaker anyway? Is it a person who lives peacefully. . . or a person who shuts down troublemakers by imposing peace on their violent schemes?

Whatever your answer to that question is, please consider this: Take it upon yourself as a sacred duty to do the best you can to respect others, and to obtain respect for those who are unable to retain it.

Glass half-Full

From hydrogen to iron is a long way

June 20, 2012

A man stands on the earth and looks up into the night sky. He sees the stars, the moon, the great expanse of space. He wonders at the immensity of it all, the brightness, the contrast, the arrangement of stars and heavenly bodies in the visible universe. He ponders it. He considers it all, from the perspective of one who knows a little something about how things seem to fit together here on earth. Could it have all just happened at random, or is there some grand design to it?


I’m not the only person to have done this. Take, for instance, the famous progressive leader from antiquity, Moses. He started his best-selling book with this statement, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Let’s compare this statement to Robert Hazen’s statement in his brilliant best-selling book, The Story of Earth.

Mr. Hazen wrote, “In the beginning, all space and energy and matter came into existence from an unknowable void.”

So compare: What Moses calls “heavens and earth,” Robert calls “space, matter, and energy.”  They are both writing about the same thing, which is all that stuff out there that we’re not sure about exactly what it is and cannot really prove how it got there.

Faith and Science are equally clueless.

The scientific method, assuming we cannot know everything but positing that we can know some things, then proceeds to prove, by successive experimentation what we can know, one hypothesis at a time. Makes sense to me.

Faith, on the other hand says, there’s a lot out there I don’t know, but I do understand this: It didn’t all just happen. There is an order to it, and, Whoever designed it included in the program a personal conviction within me that I didn’t just randomly pop out of the stardust.

Pretty naive, nest ce pas?  I believe it.

So faith is one thing, and science, or knowledge, is another. One thing I like about science is: it is so very useful. Take, for instance, Mr. Hazen’s very instructive scientific book. His introduction and first chapter have communicated to me light years of knowledge about  the universe that I had not understood before. His explanation, based on the elements, and the Periodic Table by which we successfully contextualize their intricate interactions in the physical world, starts with the simplest element, hydrogen. Mr. Hazen then guides us very simply and concisely through the mysterious process of nuclear fusion. Fusion combined small quantities of  the original, simplest element–hydrogen–to produce helium.  Then, by continuing fusion, other more complex elements such as carbon, oxygen, nitrogen were created, and ultimately life itself.

That last phrase, “life itself” is where misunderstandings between us Faith-holders and some Scientists tend to arrive at different conclusions. No problem for me though. I believe that Moses could stand on a sandy beach, as I did yesterday, and know, yes know, that indeed “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. But hey, even though I’m a person of faith, I can still move on, and learn some stuff. I wish I could have seen this cumulative hydrogen/fusion stuff in sixth grade instead of starting our science class with the atom, which was like starting a great story on page 7 instead of page 1.

But back to the future, or excuse me, to what is happening just now. . .here is something I learned yesterday, after standing on a Hawaii beach and contemplating the universe, and then reading Mr. Hazen’s fascinating book:

“Iron is as far as this nuclear fusion process can go. When hydrogen fuses to produce helium, when helium fuses to produce carbon, and during all the other fusion steps, abundant nuclear energy is released. But iron has the lowest energy of any atomic nucleus. As when a blazing fire transforms every bit of fuel to ash, all the energy has been used up. Iron is the ultimate nuclear ash…”

In other words, after all that high-heat nuclear goings-on after Big Bang but before earth, a big hunk of iron was left over when things cooled down a bit. And that chunk of mineral/rock was (and yes, I am vastly oversimplifying this) our earth!

Praise God! What a piece of work is earth.

Glass half-Full

Golden gated possibilities

June 18, 2012

The Golden Gate bridge was completed and dedicated for use in 1937. It was a pretty impressive piece of work. Check it out:

The idea of actually building this necessarily very big, complex structure took hold among some forward-thinking people; they were business leaders on the far side of the San Francisco bay area, in Santa Rosa, north of the waterway. Those enterprising folks in the California outback got together and started pushing the preposterous idea of building a bridge. Everybody who looked into the possibility of such a project knew it would be a tall order, no doubt about it.

Could such a thing even be done?

The Chamber of Commerce in the city of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, set the wheels of potential progress in motion. That is to say, in 2012 parlance, the “private sector.”  haha. They ran with the idea of getting something started. Together with “public sector” legislative bodies, the elected Board of Supervisors of Santa Rosa and of San Francisco, they recruited some engineers to actually get the ball rolling on the design requirements of such a gargantuan task.

An elected governmental body, the California legislature, eventually took on the massive project in 1928, turning its implementation over to their highway department. Bond financing became a problem in 1930, after the Crash when times were hard and folks didn’t have much money. Many didn’t even have, as they say, “two dimes to rub together.” So a major player in the financial industry, a founder of the Bank of America in San Francisco, bailed out the debt logjam by, according to Wikipedia, agreeing to buy the public-issue bonds, in order to get the bridge constructed.  Actual construction work began in 1933.

By April of 1937, long story short, there was a bridge where none had been before; and now, seventy-five years later, it’s still there. I know this is true. Pat and I have walked across the thing many times, even though we live in North Carolina.  Our business-administrating son, a SF resident, rode across it yesterday on his bicycle.

These things have happened in history. Put that in your public/private-sector pipe and smoke it, all ye 21st-century couch-potatoed Americans. Where there’s a will, as our grandparents used to say back in the day, there’s a way.  And they proved it.

Now these days, such projects would be much more complicated.

Or are they? Well, yes, but that’s a deep subject.

These days, you can’t just cook up a big project like that and go out and round up a bunch of folks in need of work and get them to do the thing. Americans don’t work like that any more, and besides, our infrastructure is already built anyway, right? I mean, nowadays you can’t just find a bunch of shovel-wielding fellers and get ’em to dig a big hole in the ground, pour some concrete and steel into it, then do the same on the other side, and bolt up a bridge between them. Can’t do it. Americans don’t work like that any more. We’re not programmed like in the 21st-century.

I wonder what it is that Americans can do now. We are, you know, pretty damned good at, what? making excuses, blameshifting? These days, we’re about as likely to do a big collective work like that as we are to wander out in the yard and watch the sun heat up the roof, or watch the lawn grow.

Glass half-Full

Something from Nothing

January 14, 2012

Today, I am going to expose to you my ignorance of quantum mechanics in the study of physics. Furthermore, you will plainly see that my childish grasp of the physicists’ exposition of this phenomenon is woefully inadequate, even naive.  But it doesn’t matter if you can detect right off the bat how blatantly dense is my take on the matter. You see, I am one of those who short circuits the rational pursuit of truth by inserting faith in a Creator where there should by all hypothetical propositions be an equation, or some hard-earned experimental data.

It all started with this:, wherein Lawrence Krauss is discussing the contents of his new book,  A Universe From Nothing, with Ira Flatow, and Lawrence makes such potentially gravitational statements as “Nothing is unstable,” meaning that nothingness itself is unstable, insofar as that it has a habit of generating stuff out of itself (nothing) out in space.

“Empty space is a boiling, bubbling brew of virtual particles that pop in and out of existence in a time scale so short that you can’t even measure them.”

Spontaneous generation, we used to call it, and thinking about it is, as Lawrence points out, a little bit “like counting angels on the head of a pin.”

But somewhere in the half-life of Lawrence’s broadcast/webcast explanations, what really set my neurons hurdling  into photonic frenzies is this idea that an electron, which is whirring somewhat orbitally around a proton, cannot be adequately assessed in terms of its position in relation to the proton, or in relation to, for that matter (haha) anything else. This is because, as soon as the analyst, or scientist, casts light on the subject particle(wave) in question, in order to view the electron and make some kind of determinating statement about it, the light (the energetic effect of the light) itself alters the quarky little rascal, rendering its position indeterminable! Imagine that! Like trying to herd cats.

And Lawrence also mentioned:

“Whole universes can pop out of nothing, by the laws of quantum mechanics.”

Ha!  I was stumped.

I tried, well into the evening  and the nighttime, to wrap my warpish mind around all this, which must resemble a light beam trying to keep up with a neutrino, as the French say in Switzerland.  I was getting  a little short on the fourth dimension while trying to capture the essence of  those quarks in question and fathom their unquantifiable fidgettance. And then, as if that weren’t enough profundity to drag my faltering comprehension into a blackhole, Paul Krugman’s recent comparison between Austrian economics and the 18th-century theory of phlogiston in chemistry popped out of nowhere, not to mention Higgs-Boson confusion on top of that, and…

while I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping. . . and the faith-based  short circuit suddenly presented itself, when my friend Dave sent out his daily ditty, , which started with this conveniently accessible concept:

For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

to which my friend had also added:

 “The sovereign creativity of God to bring forth what to us would have been unthinkable is staggering.  This artistic endeavor of the Divine is used to illustrate the similar work of enlightening my heart.”

Wherefore, I in my lay-like confusion decided to just go with that, call it a day, and hit the hay, where my wife was so peacefully sleeping in preparation for today’s nursing duties. I had found a universal incarnation that I could wrap my weary mind around. Now this morning, the sun shines brightly on snow out in the back .40. Thank God for a beautiful winter day here in the inexplicable universe. Ignorance is, as they say, bliss. Grits is good too, for breakfast, with cheese.

Glass half-Full

Rascals, Scoundrels, and Settlers

November 19, 2011

Rascals rock the boat. Scoundrels would sink it, but Settlers stabilize it.

The boat, in this case, is the USS America.

The Rascals have sensed that something is rotten in Denver, or in Dallas or Detroit, or in anyTown USA. This is certainly true. But hey….they don’t know what to do about it. And since their unemployed, or underemployed, or uneducated or unsettled condition renders the rascals relatively impotent to reshape the world according their tender sense of injustice, they take to the streets in protest. I can relate to it. I was out in the streets when we were in VietNam. Getting out there to make a stand seems like a cathartic something to do;  it is exciting, with all the comraderie and the shared suffering– until the nearby residents, shopkeepers, and civic leaders start upping the ante on the physical consequences of Occupation. Then the cops hype their heretofore patient vigilance into riot-gear insensibility.

Behind the scenes, chronic malcontents would manipulate the wandering rascals, maneuvering their newfound funk toward some kind of revolution, as yet unfocused. Maybe its Lennon’s revolution, or Lenin’s, or Marx’s, or Stephen Lerner’s, Naomi’s, or David’s, who knows.

There is a lot to be upset about, for sure. The rascals are enraged about the greedy corporations, mad at the mediocre politicians, intimidated by the police, yeah yeah. They screw you, yeah yeah yeah. A witch’s brew of issues boil up here: the destabilizing consequences of  competing globalized economies, inequality, outsourcing, bailouts for the 1%, outlandish executive bonuses, unpayable student loans, epidemic foreclosures, environmental degradation, polluted groundwaters, obsessive plastic lifestyles, plastic garbage in the Pacific, filthy pipelines, fracking, fricking…

It is true that we Americans need to be roused, before it is too late, out of our hydrocarbon/carbohydrate stupor, part of which is our self-immolating oil addiction. Our petrochemical habit is a dependency that has economically castrated this formerly-great nation’s independence, and greased us down into a red-light slow-idle energy complacency, comfortably numbed by an obsessive compulsion for visual and audial stimulation.

Up on Capitol Hill– where the WallStreet lobbying 1% conduct their dissonant orchestrations of unfunded mediocrity, the politicians pontificate about a lot of smokescreen issues. For instance, the so-called Solyndra-gate.

This is political grandstanding is dangerous. Their disengenuous inquisitions distract us from some imminent good news: New American job-creating possibilities  are actually being worked on, even as we speak, if the government does not obstruct.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, somewhere in America a few enterprising business people have, believe it or not, quietly settled into the tasks of doing what needs to be done.

… like, heating up technologies to elevate us out self-destructive oil addiction.

Yesterday, while up on a roof clearing gutters, I heard on the radio about two trailblazing west coast solar-tech  producers. Although Solar World and Solaria are not the the only two companies breaking new industrial ground, they are quietly settling us into a homesteading path that leads to real solar-tech cost-reduction productivity. Very soon (if not already), these manufacturers will, with a little help from their many power-hungry friends (US consumers), mass-produce photovoltaic roof- panels on an unprecedented scale. Affordability for John and Jane Doe will be the outcome.

I tuned into the ear-opening update about Solar World and Solaria yesterday while listening to NPR’s ScienceFriday. As it happened, Ira Flatow’s enquiry to the companies’ respective spokesmen, Gordon Binser and Dan Shugar, focused largely on a side issue; the issue was what Gordon Binser calls “illegally subsidized” Chinese dumping of artificially cheapened solar panels. But the entirety of thieir podcast discussion reveals far more than a cordial dispute between two industry leaders about trade strategies.  A half-hour listen draws us into a persuasive force field of updated solar capabilities. For instance, according to Dan Shugar and Gordon Binser:

~100,000 people are employed in US solar industry today. That’s more folks than are working in coal mines, and more than in steel mills.

~The industry grew by 69% last year.

~5000 companies are involved in solar technology here today.

~Labor expense is only 10% of the cost of solar panels. So the issue of Chinese (or developing nations) competition is not as difficult as we might at first think.

~The relative fragility of glass panels reinforces the logic of domestic production and distribution.

~Actual production levels of rooftop electricity are approaching (or already at) a scale that is competitive with other power-generating sources such as nuclear and coal.

~Last year, the solar industry in USA installed, operated and delivered 17 Gigawatts of electricity, the equivalent of 17 nuclear power plants in the middle of a day.

~In the summertime, there is a direct, favorable correlation between solar energy supply and the peak power demand occasioned by widespread air-conditioning.

~When smartly integrated, individual home installations (or institutional ones) can be connected to our existing power infrastructure (with modifications)  to inject electricity into the cumulative power grid. Thus, consumers can become net PRODUCERS of electrical power at certain times of the day, thus lowering their electric bills.

~As demand for solar installations has grown, the cost-reduction curve has followed the same pattern of cell phones, computers, and dvd players. Bet you didn’t know that, huh?

~Solar World has over 1000 employees in Oregon, and has been making photovoltaic panels for over 35 years.

~In Germany, there are some peak-demand times when 40% of contributed electrical input is being generated by solar panels.

I was quite impressed with all these statistics, both yesterday as I heard Dan and Gordon list them for Ira on the radio, and this morning when I replayed the ScienceFriday podcast.

So hey! In the turbidity of all this stir-crazy Occupy controversy, and right in the middle of the bad banking news and European woes, here we find some very real, very timely good news about newfound American industrial innovation, and developing job opportunities on the dark-cloud horizon, maybe even on your community’s own rooftops.

What Dan and Gordon communicated to Ira really comes down to this: the time for cost-effective solar design and application is no longer future. It is now. This is one sector of manufacturing that the Chinese will not be able to dominate, because our automated capabilities can effectively competetive with developing-world low-wage production expense (which is only 10% of a solar panels cost).

And everybody needs a little sustainable wattage.

So, all you angst-ridden discontented shivering souls out there–

Before you Occupy the frigid streets and possibly get thereby injured, infected or arrested, think about a productive alternative:

Occupy, for an hour or two while you fill out the application, the human resources foyer of your local appropriate technology producer. If you don’t find one locally, maybe you’d become the entrepreneur-installer to heat up this movement in your community. Perhaps you’d  be the first one in your community to capitalize on this work–work that really needs to be done if America is going to continue to Occupy its Can-do legacy. The time to Occupy energy independence is now.

Think about it. Like Ira mused yesterday: we Americans invented the light bulb; we invented the energy-generating solar roof panel.

What’s the next thing (or process, or service) we need to invent to light our way out of this oil-pit we’ve dug ourselves into?

Glass half-Full

The power of the universe

July 8, 2011

With impressive regularity, the moon orbits the earth every 28 days or so. This arrangement produces some very real effects on what happens to us and to our planetary home.

Long ago when I was in school, I learned that the mysterious white orb up in the night sky has a gravity of its own. Like every object that exists anywhere, it has a power to compel other objects in its direction. This gravity attribute of matter, which is proportional to its mass, is an important part of the mechanics of the universe. An intricate clockwork of physical events is constructed around it. Thanks to Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton, among many other wise men who lived long ago, for figuring this out.

I suppose heavenly objects are a little like people in this respect–posessing a kind of magnetism that produces a sphere of influence. But among humans the attractive forces are relatable more to personality, leadership, status, charm, and such immeasurable factors, rather than a person’s size, or what the physicists call ‘mass’.

But I was thinking about the moon because of what happened two days ago when Pat and I were at the beach; it was a scary event that is indirectly related to the moon’s orbit around us. Now as I write this the moon’s glory is fading, as its master the sun renders it invisible while I watch the sun come up over the island of Maui, Hawaii. Being awake so early, I must still be on east coast time, even though its been a week ago since I was there.

But about the moon…Mostly we tend to think of gravitational forces between earth and moon in terms of the earth’s greater gravity (due to its larger mass.) We see in the night sky the moon doing its thing, sort of hanging there night after night, seeming to travel an arc across the nocturnal sky as dusk pulls its curtain of darkness across the heavens, until dawn comes blasting all that blackness away, with sunny brightness and life-giving warmth.

We are forever accustomed to the fact that our earth powerfully determines the moon’s behavior. But their cosmological connectedness works both ways. That little white sphere, so hopelessly tethered by gravity to its giant companion, exerts an unyielding, and quite predictable, effect over our worldy substance.

This dynamic is most easily observed in our oceans. Collectively, they are an immense resource that no one can measure. But the little old moon, even as small as it seems to us, pushes our oceans around like plasmic silly putty all the time, every day and night. That precocious dimpled satellite grabs, for instance, our largest planetary mass, the Pacific ocean, at one end, so to speak. As earth revolves, the moon fluffs its massive surface waters like a great oceanic blanket, wrinkling it all the way from Canada to Australia, crumpling it from Japan to Chile, and everywhere in between and beyond.

Tremendous physical forces of nature are set in motion through thousands of miles of water, producing the tides, the ocean swells, waves on the beach.

Right in the middle of all that lunar-induced force field of liquid dynamism is a string of islands we call Hawaii, which is where I now write this. Down there on the beach, which I am beginning to see again in the widening light of dawn, a wave crashes in the sand. It crashes because all that lunar-inflicted energy, which has passed in wave form across thousands of sea-miles, is suddenly resisted, and stopped, by a physical object–the beach. The mixture of energy in the wave–it may have been (guessing) 70% potential energy and 30% kinetic–is uproariously transformed into 100% (?) kinetic energy as it strikes the shore and dissipates.

A couple of days ago, Pat and I, fools that we are, happened to be standing in that Maui surf, when the awesome power of the universe, having been channeled by our feisty little tide-jerking earth-moon through the oceanic medium, came crashing against us with a force we had never heretofore experienced. The big wave came as the first among a set of whoppers; it whipped Pat and me around like rag dolls for a few fearful seconds.

Having been caught clueless in a tenacious explosion of kinetic water energy, we were lucky to recover and walk away from its ferocity, back to our little beach blanket island of sun-screen and security. Well, not lucky–actually, more like “saved.” Saved by God, who is greater, and more benevolent, than all the jerky universe that stirs us around like fruity chunks in a beach-blender. Do you think me naive to assume such a thing as God’s protection in the midst of a terrible wave? It’s okay. You may say that I’m a naive believer, but I’m not the only one.

Another believer, one from ages long ago, wrote this about that same power of the universe, (from Psalm 93):

“The seas have lifted up, O Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice;

the seas have lifted up their pounding waves, mightier than the thunder of the great waters,

mightier than the breakers of the sea– the Lord on high is mighty.”

Glass half-Full

The two types of stem cells

June 18, 2011

A couple of years ago, I delved into a personal research project,  in order to write my second novel,  Glass Chimera. From a layman’s perspective, I was learning about  genes, DNA, cloning, and other areas of scientific endeavor that pertain to the science of genetics.  I learned a lot about the human genome, more than I can ever understand or explain.

One particular area of genetics that is often discussed in our era is  the use of stem cells. My limited investigation into the subject has brought me to this observation about stem cells: there are basically two types of them.

Embryonic stem cells are those found in the fertilized egg, or the embryo, of a newly-conceived fetus in a female’s uterus. These are the controversial stem cells, because the harvesting of them for medical use will most likely alter or terminate the embryo’s fetal development.  Embryonic stems cells are pluripotent, insofar as they have potential to differentiate into many types of cells that are necessary for a fully developed body to, after birth, sustain life. These cells can be directed by the DNA genetic code to become, for instance,  blood cells,  skin cells,  muscle,  nerve, or whatever cells. My limited studies have  indicated that the  main value of embryonic stem cells is found in their use for medical research.

In the novel that I wrote while studying this, I include a hypothetical conversation between two graduate students in microbiology. In chapter 24, Erik is explaining  stem cells to his friend Sam:

 “. . .these guys that are doing this type of work, they remove the stem cells from the ICM (inner cell mass) that has congregated inside the 5-or-6-day old blastocyst—“

“So they’re sacrificing the embryo?” Sam wondered.

“I guess you could call it that,”

“What do they do with the outer part?”

“Oh, the trophoblast, God only knows.  I suppose they use it for something or other in the lab, or maybe they culture those cells for some other developmental purpose. I don’t know.  Anyway,  they place the totipotent stem cells into culture and propogate them.”

“That’s what we call a stem cell line,” observed Sam.

“Uhhuh, but it’s tricky.  Those cells have a built-in tendency toward differentiation.  If they’re kept alive unto themselves, without chemical restraints, they’ll start to organize themselves into an embryo again.”

This “differentiation” potential of stem cells is their most useful attribute. At the same time, it is the very thing that makes them somewhat dangerous.

I mentioned above that there is another  type of stem cells: adult stem cell.  Their differentiation potential is quite limited, as compared to the embryonic type, but they are much safer for medical applications, mainly because they are obtained from a patient’s body, and then injected back into that same patient. So there’s no conflict between the genetic info in the medically modified stem cells and the genetic data resident in that patient’s other billions of cells.  This second type of stem cell, the “adult” type, exists in the body of every child and adult. They enable the growth of new bodily tissue, and they exist in every part of the body.

Yesterday, June 17 2011, I was fascinated as I listened to a very informative discussion  on the radio about new medical treatments  utilizing these adult stem cells to repair damaged tissue.

Ira Flatow was again demonstrating his customary excellence in science journalism. The depth and scope of  his NPR reporting  keeps  his show, Science Friday, on the cutting edge of popular science education. I always obtain galactical levels of new information and insight when I can listen to his Friday program, or catch it later online.

The spot I heard yesterday was SciFri 061711 Hour 1: Black Holes, Untested Cell Therapies, Solar Update, which I had clicked on at


Ira was speaking to two medical doctors about Bartolo Colon, the great NY Yankees pitcher whose injured pitching arm required medical treatment. Ira explained that since the pitcher was in the latter years of his baseball career, surgery to correct his elbow problem might be too risky. So Bartolo had elected to have this relatively untested therapy performed on his arm by doctors  in Dominican Republic.  And guess what, it worked! Bartholo has made an impressive comeback in his pitching career, at the age of 37.

Dr. Rick Lehman, an orthopedic surgeon at the US  Center for Sports Medicine (in St. Louis), described how cells taken from Bartolo’s own body had been medically treated and then injected back into his injured shoulder and elbow. The immature stem cells, as the doc explained, act to recruit blood  supply, enhance healing of ligaments, and improve the natural healing mechanics inside the patient’s body.

Dr. Scott Rodeo, orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery (in New York City) contributed to their fleshing out of the subject with specific comments about Bartolo Colon’s surgery, but also with some interesting facts about the different kinds of stem cells.  For instance, risk of cancer is far lower with the use of these adult stem cells than the risk from using  more primitive stem cells, such as those pluripotent ones found in embryos.

As a writer whose research had skirted these areas pioneering medicine, I was fortunate to have heard their productive talk on NPR about the  minimally surgical restoration of a great pitcher’s arm.

And congratulations to Bartolo Colon, whose baseball career has been renewed.

Glass Chimera