Saturday, 24 November 2012

Narssicus and Goldmund

I found this book deepy moving and disturbing.

Am I a Narssicus or a Goldmund?
It was very Apollonian/Dionysian.
I was so happy to see Plato in some of their conversations.

My heart hurt when I felt like Goldmund, and my heart didn't feel at all when I was Narssicus. Goldmund lived with his body. Narssicus lives with his mind.

The question at the end is still with me. "How will you die when your time comes, Narssicus, since you have no mother? Without a mother, one cannot love. Without a mother, one cannot die."

The Scientific Renaissance 1450-1630

This book filled in a lot of gaps left by 'A Birth of A New Physics'. It was a plesure to read. I especially liked the format of the book- each chapter explored a different scientific disipline and the prominent figures within it.

Humanism played a large part in the rise of science in the Renaissance age. The translation movement of the 12th century led to the rediscovery of Hellenistic Greek works. However, the European scholars found these translations unsatisfactory and decidede to write new ones in the 15th century. The works of Aristotle, Ptolemy, Galen, Hippocrates and others were repopularised and regarded as the authoritative texts in their respective fields.

Copernicus wrote On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres in exactly the same format as Ptolemy's Almagest. Copernicus wasn't a pioneer, he got the idea for a heliocentric universe from what he understod was the Pythagorean model. Osiander's preface stated his own views on Astronomy, not those of Copernicus. Astrology was a popular discipline. Most men studied star charts to be able to predict horoscopes. Brahe and Kepler weren't above it.

The book also mentioned alchemy, and how widely practiced it was. Ultimately the appearance of syphilis caused much stress to be placed on the alchemists to synthesise mercury (it was the most common treatment) and this eventually led to the new science of chemistry.

Galen and Aristotle were used in medicine. Cadavers were a topic for debate. Vesalius, Cesalpino, Fernel. Harvey's text would replace them all later.

Gilbert and his magnetism would play a big influence on Kepler. Magic was widely practiced, and was closely associated with math. Gilbert was quite the mystic.

The book ended with Galileo. I was disappointed they didn't go on to talk about Newton.

Sunday, 4 November 2012


Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote a two part treatise on Education. The first (and often assumed the only) volume of this work is Emile.

Emile is raised in a garden by a tutor who retards his moral development in favour of physical development. Emile at age 12 is totally ignorant of the right/wrong, true/false, good/bad distictions key to the TJEd's Core phase.

The garden is an image of nature and the tutor is an image of Man's understanding. What Rousseau is saying by educating Emile in this way is that he should have knowledge of natural laws (Might is right) before any human laws are imposed on him.

Rousseau was a careful student of Locke, who proposed that the free market should replace the battlefield of natural laws. Instead of might is right, we should have political and economic contracts which govern our behaviour. The State is the only entity who possesses the right to kill (the death penalty). Rousseau agrees with all of this, but argues that there are two other types of contracts that should exist: social and loving.

Social contracts are cultural customs, ettiquette, etc. Love, Rousseau says, is the most important type of contract and it should be dealt with last. This is reflected in the Emile, where Emile is kept wholly ignorant from the differences of the sexes for as long as possible.

Economic contracts sometimes conflict with political ones, as social contracts sometimes do with loving contracts. Rousseau's central question is how do we educate for all four of these contracts, given that sometimes they conflict?

A key observation of Rousseau's is that humans fear losing the 'sentiment of existence' more than anything else. This is why we fear death. This sentiment is satisfied by love. Because of this and because Rousseau asserts that political and economic education has been covered satisfactorily by Locke, he will focus on education for love and social contracts.

Rousseau describes two types of love. Amour de soi is the ability to evaluate yourself by your own standards. Often this is translated as self-esteem. This is entirely desirable and it is cultivated in Emile by his tutor. Amour propre is the other type of love described by Rousseau. Rousseau defines it as defining your worth in relation to others and is totally undesirable. He means to eliminate this from Emile.

The picture of love painted by Rousseau is very similar to the Greek story of love. According to Rousseau, every human is incomplete. It is impossible to complete yourself so must seek another to complete you. You need amour de soi to do this. Completion has two effects: attaining the 'good', which is the objective truth and experiencing sentient, passionate love.

By being brought up in political and economic surroundings we surrender our natural freedom, which causes us to lose the knowledge of what is truly good for us. Rousseau knows that finding the truth about what is really good for us is vexingly difficult. He does know for certain that domestic education is the best education to preserve love.

Quantum Man

This is the second time Lawrence Krauss has appeared in this blog, this time for his biography of Richard Feynman [1918-1988]. I really enjoyed his style of writing and his treatment of Feynman's life. I was totally ignorant of Feynman's work before beginning this book. After finishing it I feel like I can begin to understand the impact Feyman had on so many areas of physics.

He shared the Nobel prize in 1965 with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga for work in quantum electrodynamics. He invented Feynman diagrams and his own notation. He worked on the Manhattan project when he was a grad student. He demonstated why the Challanger mission failed. He was a great explainer of things and frequently asked questions which led to discoveries that he was not credited for.

Apparently he was also a frequent patron of strip bars. I was glad Krauss left most of this part of Feynman out of Quantum Man.

He taught a two year introductory physics course at Cal Tech which would later be published as the Feynman Lectures on Physics. Most of his undergrad students failed this course because of its difficulty, but grad students and professors filled the empty lecture seats because of his ability to rework accepted knowledge in ways that had never been thought of before.

The Visual Guide to Extra Dimensions

I'm not entirely sure why I read this. I had a fun time with it nonetheless, and learned about tesseracts, glomes and the ana/kata dimension. He went on to describe life in the fourth dimension, some objects called hypertori and 5th (and higher) dimensions. The author is Chris McMullen. He referenced Rudy Rucker and Edwin A. Abbott as his inspirations for writing and highly recommends their works on higher dimensions.

Monday, 8 October 2012

A Thomas Jefferson Education

I've read two of the three volumes on this education program. I have to admit my skepticism was raised somewhat when I first heard of this program. However, the more I study the more the ideas expressed in this volume seem natural or even obvious.

Education requires Classics and Mentors to create leaders.
Conveyor belt, professional education, leadership education.
Core phase, Love of Learning phase, Scholar Phase, Depth phase, Mission Phase, Impact Phase

Classics, not textbooks
Mentors, not professors
Inspire, not require
Structure time, not content
Quality, not conformity
Simplicity, not complexity
You, not them

Leadership Education outlined each of the phases in greater detail. Some examples were given of how to impliment the seven keys and five environments. The second book included a sizeable digression on the ideal structure of universities, which I thought was largely unnecessary. One of the most interesting sections was about the adult phases (mission and impact) and why we should bother educating for leadership at all. The answer, according to the Demills, is to improve the world your grandchildren will inherit. They go as far as to say that the meaning of life is to explore each of the 13 roles of impact phase.

One book left to go!

The Birth of A New Physics

Aristotle, Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton.

I've been enjoying my reading on the history of science very much in the past month. I like to connect the ideas which I've studied previously with the people who created them. These people are much more impressive when their context is applied to them. There is something about Tycho Brahe which endears him to me (though he wasn't discussed much in this work). Kepler was supersticious -- he practiced astrology and his model of the universe was dearer to him than his three famous laws. Galileo seemed to me to be the most scienfic of all his peers, Newton seemed the most mathematical. Aristotle's model was so complete that it took nearly twenty five hundred years to completely overthrow his ideas.

Kepler's Laws-
The path of the planets about the sun is elliptical in shape, with the center of the sun being located at one focus. (The Law of Ellipses)

An imaginary line drawn from the center of the sun to the center of the planet will sweep out equal areas in equal intervals of time. (The Law of Equal Areas)

The ratio of the squares of the periods of any two planets is equal to the ratio of the cubes of their average distances from the sun. (The Law of Harmonies)

Newton's Laws-
Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an extermal force is applied to it. (The Law of Inertia)

The acceleration of a body is parallel and directly proportional to the net force acting on the body, is in the direction of the net force, and is inversely proportional to the mass of the body, (F = ma)

When a first body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force on the first body. This means that F1 and F2 are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Little Britches

A good contrast with Little Women. Ralph is devilish and brave. Very obvious right and wrongs through the book. An entertaining story. Such a sad ending- why so much death in the last few chapters? Maybe to prepare children for the death of loved things as they grow. His father's death confirms his transformation from boy to man. I loved the characters in this story, especially Two Dog. A great book for a boy.

Friday, 10 August 2012

The Odyssey

Odysseus is cunning and strong. He is also sometimes foolish and proud. His son isn't developed much but there is a sense that he will replace his father in every sense. Penelope is also clever, she tests Odysseus by pretending to have moved the bed that he built from a living tree. So many of the images from this story have become western architypes. Odysseus' homecoming was my favorite part.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Iliad

Achilles has a nasty temper. Hector is foolish to risk so much for his own glory. Agamemnon seems greedy but noble. The morales are not disguised in many symbols or allegories- they are presented often in dialogue between characters. How violent this story is! How wondrous strange this old world seems. Next: The Odyssey of Homer

Monday, 23 July 2012

Little Women

It's been a long time since I read a book which touched me as deeply as Little Women did. The sweetness of the story was such a wonderful contrast with the bitterness of the social commentary. I fet very much like I was a friend of the girls while reading their coming of age stories.

The basic theme of the book was about a young woman's place in the world. Alcott does this three (debatably four) ways with her girls. True love, hard work and domestic life are discussed in detail. The strength required of girls to become women is shown through only through Jo. I don't agree with that because not only tomboys possess that strength. Meg fails to separate completely with Marmee after her marriage and can't manage her children without Marmee's advice. Beth is too weak physically to even enter womanhood (her life was entirely domestic, Alcott means to say that the woman doesn't belong only to the home). Amy's adult life isn't discussed much since her match is made so late. Joe is the only woman to find a partner to be her equal and to remain independent after marriage. She is Alcott's reflection of herself.

The most surprising part of the novel is the total lack of an antagonist. There's no evil. Not even a fight scene. But isn't that the best part? It's realistic. The villian is vanity and the fight is within each of the girls. Who can't relate? The goal is to be a wonderful woman. Each of them tries in their way to be good.

This is a book I'd like my daughters to read. More than likely, I'll read it again too. There's certainly a reason it's remained a girl's classic for all these years.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Bird on a Wire - Leonard Cohen

"Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free
Like a worm on a hook
Like a knight from some old fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons for thee
If I, if I have been unkind
I hope that you can just let it go by
If I, if I have been untrue
I hope you know it was never to you"

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Sunday, 11 March 2012

The Lady and the Unicorn

This tapestry hangs in the Cluny museum in Paris, France. It is a six part series, and each piece is a slight variation of this scene except for the last, which reads "À mon seul désir".

Friday, 9 March 2012

a thing with no fingers

The belly swells like a mind occupied.
Eyes bloom like ideas.
Hearts tremble like hot kernels on the brink of epiphany.
            So strong is the touch of a thing with no fingers!  

Thursday, 8 March 2012

'A Universe From Nothing' by Lawrence Krauss

Supernova as standard candles, most energy is in empty space, 10,000 galaxies in a dime, ancient universe is opaque (cosmic microwave background radiation), geometry of universe is flat, experimenting for dark matter, weighing the universe with general relativity and CMB triangulation. Pardon the religion bashing.

Sonnet XXVII

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body's work's expired:
For then my thoughts--from far where I abide--
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul's imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.
    Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
    For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.