Wednesday, April 28

Can we answer every question?

I read Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind of Science awhile back (and absorbed some of it), and along with Hofstadter's Goedel, Escher, Bach, Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, Penrose's The Road to Reality, Dennet's Consciousness Explained, and many of Asimov's nonfiction and fiction (ideas like laws of robotics and psychohistory), along with of course a myriad of other books, from Cosmology, Number Theory, Philosophy, Neurology, Logic, History, Artificial Intelligence, Network Theory, Information Theory, Topology, Complexity, Chaos, Emergence, Fractals, Memetics, and so on, I've developed my own overall ideas (I won't be presumptuous enough to call them theories, maybe hypotheses though, where they can be tested in reality) on some of the "big picture" truths about the world we live in.

Here is Wolfram giving a brief talk at this year's TED (I highly recommended all of TED's vast archive of talks, by the way, to any thinking person) about "computational knowledge."

Horror movies.

Who likes horror movies? Hates them? If you like them, why? And which of the many sub-genres of horror do you enjoy the most? What are some of your favorites?

People seem to be pretty polarized by these types of movies. On the one end, you have campy, slasher flicks that are more "fun" than scary, although they're usually good for a couple jolts as well. Then there is psychological horror, supernatural or religious horror, true stories that happen to be creepy, monster movies, zombie flicks, gothic horror, all the way to horror-SF and dystopian or post-apocalyptic films, which may or may not contain action-film elements. Some films are downright depressing, while others are thrilling and adrenaline-inducing, and you're that much happier that real life isn't like that when it's over. Then some are a little too realistic and leave you wondering...

Just trying to start a discussion because horror films and the people who love them have long fascinated me. And a certain segment of the public at large really seems to enjoy them. I admit to a certain fascination with them myself, though I'm not sure exactly why. I could start listing pop-psychological reasons, but I won't because I want to hear what you think. If you absolutely hate anything scary, then that's a perfectly acceptable position, too - and probably more sane. But in that case... do you like "thrillers"? Where do you draw the line?

Looking forward to a lively discussion, hopefully. I have lots of ideas about the subject and will contribute my own favorites and least favorites in the process, if anyone cares to join me...

Sunday, April 25

Anyone want to learn Elvish?

There are a small but not insignificant number of people in the world who are experts in JRR Tolkien's invented languages. Of those, a handful can even speak one of the more complete languages fairly fluently, though it's true that even his most developed languages are not as extensive, certainly in vocabulary (the grammar is fairly complete), as a "real" language, one actually spoken as a first language by people in the modern world. Wanting to lay a framework that others could extend, however, he left many root meanings and lots of prefixes and suffixes so that one can construct many words (and thus sentences) that Tolkien himself may never have written or uttered but which a student of his languages could nonetheless understand. After all, he was a first-rate philologist and knew Latin, Greek, Old German, Old Norse, Finnish, and many other languages from which other, more modern languages like English, French, German, and Spanish developed, and he knew them inside and out, and understood the nature of language much like a Stephen Pinker or Noam Chomsky does.

It's no surprise then that such students exist and that the most dedicated of them have taken it upon themselves to ensure that Professor Tolkien's languages do not die, or survive embalmed in a linguistic museum so to speak, but continue to grow, to be spoken, written and read, and to this end some have even broken out of their fairly insular little linguistic clubs and Tolkien societies and deigned to make this knowledge available to anyone who wants to learn. To this point I've not seen it done well at all, or in any way accessibly; it seems to my mind that one would have to have some higher education in linguistics just to be able to follow the conversations these sort of people have amongst themselves. But then I found this site:

Which, although still in a beta state (as one can see from the URL), purports to teach a "normal" person the Sindarin language, which is one of Tolkien's Elvish languages and is probably the most fully developed. It is the Elvish found most often in his books, when Elvish is spoken. There is another Elvish language, Quenya, which is not often heard, because it was (in Tolkien's created world) chiefly spoken by those elves who had gone West, across the sea to Tol Eressëa or further on to Valinor, a semi-divine land forever beyond the reach of Man, and therefore which does not enter into many tales. The two languages are somewhat similar but are different enough that, if one were to imagine being incarnated in a world where the two were spoken, the speakers of Sindarin and Quenya could probably understand fragments of what the others were saying but would have difficulty truly having any sort of fluid conversation. It would be a bit like the situation with the modern Scandinavian languages, which are obviously related, and derive from a relatively recent common Norse tongue, but which still can in no way be considered interoperable. I've been informed of this by some of my good friends who live in the various Scandinavian countries and report that amongst, say, modern Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Icelandic speakers, most understand the other languages to various degrees, some more, some quite a bit less. I'm not a language expert so I can't be any more specific, unfortunately. Nor can I comment on the non-Elvish invented languages, except to say that they were all left in a "less finished" condition, according to Christopher Tolkien and others.

At any rate, I don't think I'll be attempting to learn either Sindarin or Quenya any time soon, much less Dwarvish, Entish, Stoor, Númenórean (later spoken in Gondor), the native tongue of Rohan, or the black speech of Mordor. That some people do speak at least the sylvan languages, and that others are attempting to learn and pass them on at this very minute, however, for some reason delights and encourages me. Maybe in my old age I can find time in my day and room in my mind to fit them in. Until then I would like to improve my French, Spanish, German, Italian, Hungarian, Finnish, Russian, Ukrainian, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Egyptian: Ancient, Hieratic, Coptic, and Modern. And of course, my English as well.

Friday, April 23

I've been ill, but I think I'm getting better.

And now I have a question about what I should post over the next week. Here are some choices:

A little writeup on the quite significant contribution to astronomy made by females over the years (now it's not such a big deal anymore, of course, and there are many fine female astronomers and astrophysicists, but prior to the mid-20th century women in the sciences were much more rare), spotlighting a few in some detail.

A more broad than deep assessment of the differences between British and American English, explaining or speculating on where some of the differences came from, the cross-pollination that still occurs, and also touching on the truth that English is a truly international language, not only in Britain and America and in the former or current Commonwealth countries (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Kenya, and so on), but also as the de facto second language of much of the rest of the world, and of the Internet. How has the explosion of English around the world and in cyberspace affected it? Where is it headed?

A fun, delightful, jovial, life-affirming, joyous, and fascinating Solar System Quiz.

An original essay about the impossibility of motion, from the point of view of a rational logician. Other paradoxes are touched upon but not in any depth. Those Zeno fans out there will like this one. Everyone else will skip it.

Ratings of movies, television shows, games, apps, and films that I have seen or been exposed to over the past few months. Using my patented new rating system, of course.

The story of how, despite my better judgment, I got into what seemed a benign discussion with some old high-school friends recently having to do with Christianity, on a specific topic about which, it turns out, I knew much more than any of them did, though they are self-proclaimed Christians and I am not, and how it went horribly wrong terribly quickly, to the extent I had to kick them off my Facebook friends list, and even ban a couple of them. A parable on how one should not argue with closed-minded people about anything, no matter how trivial it seems, and especially if they are in a wolfpack group and you are alone.

How to set up and optimize a Bit Torrent client, and where to find stuff to download.

How to set up and optimize your music collection, with possible fascinating sub-topics covered depending upon how long I ramble on about the main topic.

A Photoshop tutorial in which I take a so-so digital photograph and use the software to bring out its full potential. Would include many screenshots but no animation or video - I'm not that awesome yet. (Though on my New Blog I hope to be....)

A list of books to read before you die.

The usual poems, pictures, funnies, quotes and so on will appear when they appear, and I'm working on a short story I hope to actually finish as well as the final installment of the "Substitute teacher" posts, after which I plan to begin producing the essays (tutorials? I have to find a better word for them. Anyone who can think of a good one gets a free point in the solar system quiz) themselves.

So if any of the above sound interesting, let me know, otherwise you can't complain about what I do post!

Thursday, April 22

Wednesday, April 21

"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."
Winston Churchill

Tuesday, April 20

Substitute teacher: Followup.

scratch & sniff...

The previous post is by no means closed to comments, but I just wanted to report that based on those who've responded so far, the order of interest seems to go something like this:



I put a little break in there as the top five subjects scored very close to one another, while the bottom five definitely trailed.

I think the way these 'lower interest' fields are traditionally taught, as well as portrayed to the public in books and on television (and heaven knows in many films), has contributed to them being viewed as more boring than the upper subjects, when in fact, when one thinks on it, the upper subjects just seem to be more complex, and built of the more fundamental blocks represented by the lower subjects.

Some examples.

Cosmology is really a mix of all of the other subjects in its broadest sense, but most of what we usually mean in science by cosmology (the origin and fate of the universe) is handled by physics and math, perhaps with some philosophy underpinning it all (some scientists prefer not even to speculate on "meaning," such as Edwin Hubble, who was the first to realize that all the galaxies are flying away from one another but being a field scientist through and through, left the theorizing to others), and also a bit of basic chemistry made possible by the initial high-energy physics, which explains the creation of stars and every complex thing, right down to the present. So cosmology is a "compound" subject, but then that is almost a meaningless designation as we can show that the same is true of any discipline you care to name.

History is created by people who act according to psychological, philosophical, and sociological motives, which ultimately reside within their biology (augmented by the post-natal environment), all via natural selection of course. Social anthropology is one way to study that. Physical anthropology is a way to study the actual morphological and physiological rise of humans from earlier ancestors, which is a kind of natural rather than written history but still of interest to those who wish to know our species' past and how we got to be how and where we are today. And technology, which predates humanity as evidenced by the use of stone tools in non-human ancestral hominids, spiked in complexity with an enlarging brain, a newfound capacity for complex speech, and lifeways favoring larger and larger social groups that characterized the development of us moderns. And then again, the pace of invention accelerated quite dramatically with the agricultural revolution, and has followed human history in lock-step all the way to the present. Indeed at times it seems as though technology has become something of an end in itself, and rather than enrich lives, has had an equivocal effect on our happiness, which is probably why it rather took a beating in this poll.

Yet lots of people are very interested in technology and may not even realize it. After all, technology isn't just silicon chips and wires. Sure, anyone wanting to learn how to design and create a website, how to operate a professional digital camera and manipulate the image afterward, to learn a programming language or scripting, master virtual social environments like Facebook, utilize Google's many so-called Web 2.0 services, navigate about within an operating system, put to good use a smartphone or a tablet computer or an ebook reader or even a simple mp3 player... is interested in technology. But steelworkers, potters, textile manufacturers, and automobile companies are all about technology. Services and devices for the disabled often involve new, specialized technology, as does routine medicine more and more. Even a self-professed technophobe wanting to "go green" likely has a vested interest in learning about and installing solar technology and supporting the "right" food technology, maybe fight GM crops, and educate his or herself on the hugely complex subject of ecology, which is influenced by our technological footprint but pulls in a menagerie of intellectual disciplines including biology, geophysics, politics, geology, complexity, emergence, and so on. And math :-)

Because anyone who wants to seriously understand anything about the universe must become conversant with the programming language nature opted for to devise it all - mathematics. Of course, you might disagree with me and our age's conventional wisdom over this, and that would then be a philosophic matter, a field which to my mind envelopes and contains everything else, even religion and other non-rational phenomena. Because not everyone is either capable of being completely rational, or because they choose not to believe that rationalism is the truth or that, perhaps, there is an objective Truth, we cannot just inject a statement that rational thought is at the foundation of all things. Because philosophy deals with the most fundamental backdrop against which all other intellectual pursuits are arrayed, you find that whether you are a rationalist, a religious person, or anyone who has a mind capable of asking questions (which may not  be the same as saying "anyone who is human"), that at the end of every road, at the bottom of every hole dug, you run into philosophy - a sandbox for discussing the true "theories of everything" so much more comprehensive than the unification of four known material forces that physicists talk about. And predictably, there are as many individual philosophies as their are philosophers (or as I like to call them, thinkers).

Mostly I wanted to briefly illustrate how interconnected all learning is, and how it can be combined and split an almost endless number of ways, and how our various academic magisteria receive rather arbitrary labels that probably wouldn't be exactly duplicated by other intelligences in the Universe, even though their recognition of the totality of knowledge out there - independently extant, waiting to be learned - may be very similar to ours. To put it into simpler words, their way of splitting it all up into categories may be totally different than ours, or they may not be "splitters" - cladists - at all. They may always think of every phenomena, however trivial, as part of a grand,  interconnected whole. More radically, their view on the big picture may be nothing like ours at all, in which case there is more than splitting hairs at work - likely some major differences in biology or philosophy between us and them, or even perhaps - gasp! - physics as we understand it is inconsistent universally, or it varies from universe to universe in a larger multiverse structure we may never be able to perceive, or maybe we simply have yet to understand physics' deeper aspects and what we think we understand is like the pebble on Newton's beach, just a nice little superficial, side bit of a much larger and more comprehensive picture (my own hunch).

And just then, I had a serious déjà vu. Whoa.

Don't worry, any little tutorials or lessons on anything I come up with will not drift this much in its exposition (I hope). This isn't to be considered the start of my teaching yet! I'm still just getting a feel for the audience and musing as usual about the nature of knowledge itself, a meta-discipline sometimes called epistemology and a topic which greatly interested the ancient Greeks and much later Descartes, Kant, Hume, and others of the Enlightenment, and which still interests philosophers to this day but almost no one else. I confess it greatly interests me, though, for I view the question of how we understand even the concept of knowledge - what it is exactly, how we acquire it, whether we can ever know if it's true, and whether it contributes to understanding and wisdom or just peels more layers off an infinitely large onion - along with a few other questions (such as, is the world objectively real and rational, or subjective, relative, and irrational?) to be the 'atoms' of philosophy, the axioms upon which we must somehow decide and take a stand if we are to ever discuss anything else with any credibility.

(Enter agnosticism...)

And since philosophers bitterly disagree over the most basic "givens" of what is true and real and what can be known, I don't see how anyone can seriously or meaningfully consider themselves a rationalist, a mystic, or anything else for that matter. So not only am I agnostic in a religious sense - a sense in which I'm very definitely unconvinced to say the least of any sort of personal God or in the validity or truth of any of the major organized religions - on a much deeper level, I'm agnostic about philosophy itself! I can find no way to decide on the philosophical equivalents of the geometer Euclid's "first principles" which he assumed to be obvious to all, and from which he constructed the first systematic geometric proofs. The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States both basically begin by invoking similar "self-evident" truths, and then take off from there. But as wise as they were, the Founding Fathers sort of missed the boat about Blacks and Women being equal to white men when it came to having equal protection, opportunity, and the right to vote: It took later amendments to accomplish that.

The point is that whenever someone argues from "first principles" or "self-evident truths" or "givens" or "axioms" with a wink round the room that assumes everyone is on the same page, inevitably everyone is not on the same page, and first principles may yet contain more granularity or upon reflection presume even simpler, earlier postulates; self-evident truths presented in a different historical age may not seem so self-evident; and givens and axioms need to be questioned rather than blindly accepted, always. This is my problem with logic, rationality, maths (that 's' is for you, Raelha), and ultimately the scientific method and all its wondrous results: In the very preamble of such grand endeavors there is still an implied leap of faith, for example that the "world" (whatever you may take that to mean) IS rational, that logic DOES hold in all cases, that "our" mathematics ARE universal, and that science, largely accomplished by the philosophical technique of induction (the idea of building a stronger and stronger case for a postulate by actual experimentation, repeatedly and repeatably) is not only a valid way to go about studying that which is around us, but is in fact the ONLY valid way. That's a lot of presumptions or axioms in my book to simply accept on faith.

Therefore in any unquestioned acceptance of what I'll call "a rationalist's axioms" - needed for the whole industry of science and indeed the entire secular Western mode of thought to function - I am truly agnostic. I cannot say that it is a more valid system than Eastern thought, with its holism and infinities and singularities and dismissal of reality as illusion created by the mind and belief in the transcendence of that mind into a metaphysical realm. In one of the most startling interpretations of Western physics, the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics, the leading view help by completely straight-faced, very intelligent and decorated physicists is that (in a very real sense), the mind of an observer creates observable reality, which did not exist in a definite state prior to observation. How weird is that? And yet how like, say, Buddhism as well? Are the two so different nowadays?

I cannot say any religions are "definitely wrong," though I put very little stock, as I've said, in the great majority of them - seemingly the more popular the religion the more I tend to see it as a construct of man and his political, machinating mind, a desire for control of the masses, rather than the result of some true epiphany bestowed by the supernatural upon our humble species. And religions such as Young-Earth Christianity are just stupid, and make about as much sense to anyone educated at all (or simply observant of nature) as does a flat earth or geocentric universe or a flying spaghetti monster controlling us from another dimension, or indeed a toaster in orbit around Neptune. It's one of the least plausible "truths" I could have possibly come up with, and I have a pretty good imagination.

Can I prove fossils and rocks radioactively dating to billions of years old were not planted in situ by some impish God as a test of our faith? No, I can't, but I detest the thought of living in a reality governed by such a God and refuse to waste the time I have on this earth even allowing for that surely infinitesimally likely scenario to be true. But what about a living earth (Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis), or even universal consciousness? Multiverses? Endless time in both directions with no creative or destructive moment (both of which seem problematic as it is for many people)? What about faster-than-light travel, or many other speculations which violate current orthodox scientific thinking? No, I cannot and will not rule it out, because I have no good reason to once the logical fallacy of "appeal to authority" (in this case the majority of the scientific establishment) is carefully circumvented.

We are guilty as a species of lending too much credence to experts, and to abdicate the responsibility of thinking for ourselves by simply going along with someone who sounds intelligent and convincing. But history abounds with gross errors by the establishment - in fact, the vast majority of opinions about nature held by humans in our long history have been totally wrong. What makes us think we're finally right this time? The failure of many great scientists to be humble in this aspect astounds me. Nothing changes; scientist (or natural philosophers, alchemists, or whatever guise they trod under) have always exuded and unreasonable confidence that they were on the verge of understanding it all, or at least most of it, and that epiphany for all humanity was at hand. This is as ludicrous as Christians believing some kind of non-Biblical rapture is going to happen within their lifetimes.

For even rationalism (yes, Professor Dawkins), runs afoul of the problem that it cannot prove its own axioms; it simply picks itself up by its bootstraps, as it were, and then leaps forward and says all these self-consistent things. But the whole endeavor depends on you buying into those initial axioms, which to me is a sticking point. More than a sticking point - an impasse I cannot find my way around.

It always is so with me, with regards to everything. Which is why I believe in nothing. I'm not a nihilist who truly believes that everything means "nothing" (careful with those semantics, Eugene!). No, what I mean is that I don't "believe" at all. I don't think I can, ever. I live my life making decisions based on whim or desire or gut feelings I don't truly understand, or even statistical likelihoods based on my own life experiences, and can discuss most topics you'd care to talk bring up, and offer my analysis, but I can never take an ultimate stand (which is what a belief is) on any of it, because how can I truly know? How can anyone? It always comes back to that. I'm an agnostic who can never be convinced of anything because I'm not even sure anything is real. I could wake up right now and my entire life could have been a dream. How can I rule it out? Conscientiously, I cannot. A certain English gentleman once quite liked it when I stated that I don't believe in things, I simply observe. I was happy that as distinguished professor as he is, who's discovered things unknown to biological science and has been interviewed on television and done many great things over his life, seemed delighted with my statement about belief and decided to adopt it for use in his own teaching about science and philosophy (and who knows, maybe even epistemology!)

Thanks for taking this ride with me, those who did. I promise the next thing I post will be some LOLCats or something. Then perhaps we can get down to some educational essays, as a trial, and go from there?

Sunday, April 18

Substitute teacher.

Hello, I'm your substitute teacher this week. Yes I know, it's only Sunday, but I wanted to get started early. My goal is going to be to intrude in your sleepy little lives once in awhile to teach you something you may find worth learning. In the process I will surely learn more too, or crystallize what I know, and practice explaining all sorts of varied topics in easy to understand language and hopefully in a way that is enjoyable and deserving of your time. If I do my job well, you may learn a thing or two, and I'll get to practice my writing skills on a semi-captive audience.

I'm going to start simply by gauging your interests. Could you please just put the following ten subjects in order from what you are most interested in to what you find to be least interesting? I know it's heavy on sciences, and you are free to suggest other categories, but these are areas where I feel some of my strengths lie.


I've done most of you a favor and put math at the bottom for you already. Many of these disciplines have some overlap, break up into many interesting sub-fields, or contain one another like Russian dolls. In reality nothing is black and white, nor is it neatly categorized like the "departments" are in a university course catalogue. Real life is messy (complex) and our attempts to pigeonhole aspects of it into labeled boxes is mostly an exercise in futility.

But also one of utility. Since it's not usually convenient to discuss "Life, the Universe, and Everything" as the late Douglas Adams put it, we are forced to make concessions to the artificial division of the whole, and in some cases it works better than in others. The concept of evolution by natural selection, for example, is the driving theme within biology (without it biology is just zoology - or stamp collecting, as it has been said), but it's lately been insinuating its way into quite distinct disciplines as well, like economics, sociology, human history, psychology, and even cosmology - sometimes with startling results that afford new insights into the interconnectedness of all knowledge; the common themes that unite matter, energy, and information at the most fundamental levels.

For now though, if you would, I'd like it very much if you could just leave a comment ranking the above traditional disciplines in order from your most favored to least, and that will be a good start. Thanks!

More U2 videos, then onto more serious things (sort of).

Here's some I like. They've got a lot of good ones of course but I'll stay away from the big hits mostly as most people have seen/heard those already.

Hope you enjoyed.

Thursday, April 15


Monday, April 12

Sunday, April 11

One of Jackson's relatives,

darned if he's gonna get wet.

1 millisecond.


sometimes the rules of life make us tear our hair out
we're not merely properties, and a proper tease
can drop us to our knees and squeeze all the air out

but it's an illusion if you've made your own home on that web
mirages in deserts don't pay the for the feed or buy bread
and even though that younger explorer isn't dead

you don't want me for the thrills and chills in bed
when the bills stay unpaid and there's too much in my head
that I've seen, and it's only estranged me

you don't want a brilliant old fucker whose bones are
dry as dust and whose heart only works in fits and starts
so that you have to plug me in and recharge me

you don't want someone who contents himself with hobbies
you need someone strong enough to be a source of income
and keep people like me on as friends, and not pretend

that someday that ship is going to sail in, white as snow
in full sail, newly arrived from the port where angels go
when they've said no to god and gone their own way

you'll find it's a black corsair and its sails are black
as the glistening feathers on a raven's back, it sings
doom-laded dirges at all the lingering, listening, living;

and you need more than that
with kids and more kids, you need
a salesman's hat, and a bid at stability

and if that takes humility and kills pride
well I don't think if would be bad
you're eighty percent there already-

just need to forget the twenty percent that dreams
its wild, wild dreams...
put away such things, come have a drink at sunset

get the kids to bed,
rest until the room is sun-lit.

Wednesday, April 7

Brendan Perry.



Five most influential geniuses.

Who do I think were the top five geniuses in history who (and this is important) contributed their gifts to humanity in a very significant way? After all, there are closet geniuses who go mad or die in anonymity, the depths of their understanding of things never to be known. And then there are great contributers to humanity, like Edison and Bell, who to me while obviously extremely bright individuals, don't rate up there with the "top shelf" geniuses*.

In fact, true, pure genius coupled with the appropriate circumstances of birth, the right temperament to get their ideas out, and generally to not isolate themselves in their own island of insight would seem to be a rare thing, with one not in any way implying or needing the other. That's what makes this list so special. Here they are, for me. And not in any order, that would only make me tear my hair out!

Isaac Newton
Albert Einstein
William Shakespeare
Charles Darwin
Leonardo da Vinci

You'll notice my list isn't politically correct. All five are white. There are no women. There are three Brits (what are the odds?), one German, and one Italian. All Western Europeans, in other words. And three are outright scientists, one is a man of many trades including what we now call science, and only only is a master of humanities (writer) and not a scientist at all.

Still, I stand by them.

Is cultural bias a factor is my determination? Oh, without a doubt. I speak English and four of these five did too. I was brought up indoctrinated in Western concepts about science and literature, and my choices reflect that. That women seldom had a chance to make a truly large impact on society is one of the great tragedies of history, but that's how it happened and I can't change it, even if I do deeply regret that is was so. The same goes for non-Western peoples in general. I know relatively little about China's long, glorious and tumultuous history. I know about Sun Tzu. Similarly, I don't know as much about other cultures whose peaks have already come and gone, nor do the fickle pages of history. We are looking through a lens, darkly, and there is no way to be "fair."

But here you'll get many an argument, and many good ones. The person I had the most trouble leaving off the list was The Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, for I believed he did truly change the world in as profound a way as anyone who has ever lived. Buddhism is a hugely influential philosophy (I refuse to call it a religion) which has had an enormous impact in India, China, Southeast Asia, and nowadays all over the globe, as it grows and gains favor in Europe, the United States, and just about everywhere else. But was The Buddha a genius? That is my reason for ultimately leaving him out. He was almost an anti-genius, in the sense that he had to unlearn everything he had learned as a well-educated prince and get back to the very seed of what it means to be human, what existence means or rather, how to unask that very question and simply live. In this way, he enlightened himself and millions of others, but in our rather narrow view of 'genius' in the West equating to great thought and ideas, he actually deliberately moved away from that paradigm entirely. For "genius" as a concept inherently implies a dualism within human beings - some must be smarter than others. That is anathema to The Buddha's vision that we're are all waves on one big ocean, parts of a whole, not things in and of ourselves, separate from existence, but part and parcel of it. Existence itself is unity and since one cannot get outside of it, it can never be understood. The act of even trying to "understand" is actually folly and self-deception, and true contentment comes when the Self lets that idea go and then ultimately, lets the Self go as well.

THEN, depending on your bent, there is Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Pascal, Descartes, Lavoisier, Hammurabi, Imhotep, Homer, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Aristarchus, Archimedes, Democritus, Heraclitus, Nietzsche, Camus, Galileo, Von Neumann, Turing, Cantor, Leibniz, Euler, Riemann, Hilbert, Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Schumann, Bach, Debussy, Mohammed, Lao-Tzu, Thomas Jefferson, Rousseau, Paine, Roger and Francis Bacon, Chaucer, Fermi, Feynman, Flemming, Goddard, Watson & Crick, Goedel, Hubble, Keynes, Salk, Picasso, Gutenberg, Adams, Hamilton, Adam Smith, Lincoln, Marx, Mandela, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Gates, Ford, Mao, Schroedinger, Heisenburg, Bohr, Boyle, Preistly, Maxwell, Mendeleev, Gordon Moore, Tim Berners-Lee, and even some of my own personal favorites, Isaac Asimov, JRR Tolkien, Sylvia Plath, Nikola Tesla, Steve Jobs, Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, Arthur C. Clarke, Edward O. Wilson, Martin Rees, Bob Marley, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Drake, Thom Yorke, Morrissey, Robert Smith, Brendan Perry, Paul McCartney, and John Lennon!

As you see we could keep going on like this endlessly. I inevitably left off dozens or hundreds of equally brilliant or influential people, some of whom might be amongst your own personal icons. I know I gave short shrift to religious figures. There's no doubt they influence many, many people (the Pope, for example), but are they geniuses? I say no. A few - Thomas Aquinas comes to mind - come close to being extraordinarily bright and influential. Yet how to tell who is "smarter" than another, or who had the most true impact, rather than just riding the crest of a wave whose time had come, and receiving the most credit. And notice I still didn't name any women (except Plath). This was deliberate, because there have been lots of great, brilliant, influential women, and to mention any few of them (like Marie Curie, Florence Nightingale, Ada Lovelace, Margaret Sanger...) would be to do a disservice to them all. So I leave that long list out, just because making more and more lists isn't getting back to my point.

My point is, we live in a world dominated by Western thought, technologies, and lifestyle, whether we like it or not. Yes, China is on the rise, but largely because it has Westernized itself economically and somewhat socially. Japan certainly has become a 'Western' nation since WW2 in everything but geographic location. Islam and Catholicism sadly have the Middle East and Africa living largely in medieval conditions, surpressing any great thinkers or doers that may arise from there. And Latin America has had its share of great leaders (Simon Bolivar for one), but has always struggled with poverty, political upheavals, and the inability to unite to form a true continental identity, the way America's "Manifest Destiny" triumphantly and tragically did for North America. Great Britain led the way for the colonization of most of the world in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, with France, Holland, Spain, Portugal, and Germany playing their parts, and thus in a sense "Westernized" nearly the entire globe in some way. "Idea-flow" certainly went more from Europe into the third world than the other way around. And in the 20th century, especially the latter half, it was the United States who ascended and exported its culture to the rest of the world, and continues to do so to this day (much to the dismay of many).

So, in this climate, it's not a question of cultural relativism or who would be such-and-such in a hypothetical "fair" world. It's a question of looking at the real world as it is, the only one we've got, and deciding which figures in history have, by dint of their extraordinary original ideas and their successful application to and propagation within society in general, contributed the most to that world which we now inhabit, physically, culturally, socioeconomically, philosophically, and in every other way.

And my contention, though I've a supremely open mind on the subject and would love to hear YOUR lists, arguments for and against my choices, and so one, is that the five people I named above have "netted," if you will, the largest totals of pure genius + extraordinary impact with regards to their continued influence on our modern lives.

Any takers?


*Nikola Tesla did in my opinion, but he didn't have the same kind of impact as did Edison did at the time due to being somewhat blacklisted by that man; although he did invent radio (though Marconi used to get the credit), X-rays (though Roentgen still gets the credit), radio controlled devices, alternating current (AC) power (the kind used throughout the world; batteries use DC or direct current power, which cannot be transmitted far), and many, many other things that are still not appreciated to this day because he seemed also to have no head for business, unlike Edison, and failed to patent many of his inventions. He was pretty true to the stereotype of "the absent minded professor."


Wish List.

Aston Martin AMV10

Thursday, April 1

Dream staircase.

No title.

I want to do all I can do
Become what I can become
I want to stay active
Learn as much as I can
Feel my muscles stretch
Stay up and just enjoy where I am
Without ceaselessly drawing plans
I want to master many things
While realizing the path never really ends
I want to have friends that mean a lot to
This once-shrunken, fearful heart of mine
I want to open up to my divine nature
And find enthusiasm in dreariness
Ecstacy in pain and suffering
Or maybe just a good massage
And someone to hold wrapped in a blanket
On a winter solstice, beneath the blackness
Of a meteor-torn sky
In my dreams I fly, but real life
Affords anyone the chance to soar
I want to play tennis again
Feel the wind in my hair and hear the sound
Of the pummeled ball, or grab a rebound
I want to arrange the world around me
So that I feel calm and not harried
I want to carry a smile on my face
That makes other people feel good inside
I want to try to succeed more than
Succeed at whatever I try
Because that kind of life is a lie
Which leads into corners full of bones
Of long-forgotten geniuses and heroes
Which now, nobody knows
I want to read and play games
And make money to buy simple things
And do honest work and feel it
At the dog-end of the day
To let generosity of spirit be my guide
To letting these hesitant feelings
Inside my body, to puff out my chest
Not with arrogance but with
Can-do competent satisfaction
And the feeling I have fear on the run
To not worry about every little thing
Under that too-bright sun
Inside each quantum of every moment
I want a place to be; a hot meal to eat
And just want someone to say once,
That I was a true and reliable friend
And that they thought about me today.

My amazing mom.

I can't begin to thank you enough for everything you've done for me, so I'll just be quiet for once. I love you!

Archived Posts

Search The Meta-Plane