Life is always full of things to do, places to go, and people to avoid. I never seem to have a moment to stop and to think, to pause and to reflect on the passage of time. I am constantly finding myself transported forward in time, as the days and weeks slip from my fingers while I am not looking. Someone wise once said: “Life is yours to waste”.
How much more time will go by before I next realize how much I have missed? When my life is over, and my breath is nearly gone; will I then understand the whole story? Will I look back upon my past -my life that I chose to live one small insignificant decision at a time, and understand that I did something meaningful? Did I raise good kids who became wise adults? Help my fellow man? Live my life well? Did I have a goal and a purpose? As the small grains of sand that are moments slip through my fingers; I wonder if they will add up to anything of value, or merely fall onto the dust pile of the ages?
A year ago, I lost my brother in a car crash, he was younger than I, and I have had the thought many times since: as my memories of him fade, and time crawls by that life and memory and time are temporary; that the powerful play goes on, and that I may contribute a verse.
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
Answer. That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
― Walt Whitman – Leaves Of Grass
I know that no matter what happens, I too will one day die as well…
I don’t fear death, I am indifferent to life and death, I was not consulted at the beginning of life, and I won’t be at the end, so I don’t feel particularly attached to either state, but I do not want to live so that I have regrets when it comes time to die. In all estimations of average lifespan, I have about half of my life left, so I wish to life like Marcus Aurelius.
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”
― Marcus Aurelius
I recently read the biography of Albert Einstein by Walter Isaacson for the second time, Einstein has fascinated me ever since I went through a course on physics: his ideas captivated me then, and have stayed with me ever since. Einstein was more apt to use descriptions and visual imagery to show his ideas rather than just dumping his formulas bare and cold onto the world. He was a visual thinker and an amazing mind, someone who worked hard to solve problems but confronting them from many different angles, and worrying them to death until they gave up their secrets. He once said:
“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
In the first 2/3rds of his life, he revolutionaized our concepts of time, gravity, and the very fabric of space and time. He was a simple patent examiner trying to knock Newton off his throne, and was at first ridiculed and ignored, then finally as fame and recognition came, he was lauded, and made into a reluctant public figure. He was unafraid to dabble in areas outside science where his opinions weren’t always welcomed, but over time many of his predictions and proclamations came true. Especially as WWI and WWII were brewing.
Einstein was a man of peace, he held radical pacifist views early in life, and though he was often accused of naiveté, he persisted in his desire to avoid military conflicts throughout his life. No doubt his views were heavily influenced by his experiences in Germany during the first World War, and the resignation of his professorship in the Prussian Academy as the Nazi Party took power in 1933.
When I first read the biography, I was interested most in the early part of his life, and the ideas that drove him to formulate his Special Theory Of Relativity, and the later the more broad General Theory, and his futile attempts to find a Universal Field Theory to unify the troubling randomness of Quantum Mechanics, and Relativity into one set of equations that could explain the sub-atomic level interactions of matter, all the way up to stars and whole galaxies. In the end Einstein never found his grand unifying theory, but equations found in the notebook beside his death bed show that he was still trying to figure it out right up to the end.
This time reading through the book though, I was most struck by his thoughts and ideas late in life, as the youthful fire of brilliance burned perhaps less hotly and mellowed down into great red burning coals of wisdom and pondering. Many of his more profound ideas don’t have anything specific to do with science at all, but with the condition of humanity. He was a pacifist, and yet his relationship with weaponry was complex: as he was instrumental in seeing that the US was the first to develop Atomic Weapons. This troubled him greatly in the ten years that he lived after the first atomic bomb was used against Japan in 1945. He wrote this explaining his motivations for the letter to Rosevelt, but throughout the rest of his life he was bothered by the idea that mankind now had the power to destroy itself. He said:
“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
Towards the end of his life he worked with the philosopher Bertrand Russell in a futile campaign to stop the proliferation of atomic weapons, but to no avail, once that pandoras box was opened, it was impossible to put the atomic age back into the box. As he aged and retreated from the public eye his musings became more and more introspective and concerned with deeper philosophical questions.
The statistical chaos of the Quantum as postulated by Heisenberg bothered him deeply, and said in a letter to his friend and Quantum Theorist Niels Bohr: “God does not play dice with the world.” prompting Bohr to quip back: “Stop telling God what to do!” This humorous exchange illustrates how Albert always weighed what he observed or was told with his concept of how the universe ‘really worked’, how he pondered problems with his unique mix of intelligence and wit.
What is that ineffable quality of wisdom that comes out in the latter part of life? Is it just the slow simmering of time that takes all youthful vigor and brash statements, and cooks them down into something heartier and more patently honest? Life is a bellcurve of idealism, it starts out with child-like ignorance and an eager mind to learn, then as life gets faster and more full, as time picks up speed and becomes deeper and wider and more complex, we start to realize just how futile it is to know all these disjointed facts and concepts and ideas, there is no time to reflect and really understand all that you have learned. Finally the crest is reached in middle age, and the cart pauses at the crest of the hill and all around you is the countryside and vistas of life and living. You have a moment to pause and reflect, and then the cart tips down, and begins to pick up speed again, taking you deeper and farther than you ever went before.
In a letter to a friend late in life Einstein said:
“People like you and I, though mortal of course, like everyone else, do not grow old no matter how long we live. What I mean is that we never cease to stand like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we were born.”
Wisdom comes slowly.
Truly beautiful music is hard to find. I am always searching for new artists and sifting through popular media for the good stuff. One such artist that I have found is the Canadian Francophone singer Cœur De Pirate, (In English this translates to ‘Pirate Heart’) her music and poetic lyrics are amazing, I have been listening her songs nearly non-stop for about 2 months now. Not all of her music is in french, she also has english language music as well.
Some of my favorite songs are:
- Place de la République
- Comme Des Enfants
- La Petite Mort
- Tu Oublieras Mon Nom
I am in the process of learning to speak and write french, and as each new word or phrase comes into clarity, I will notice the word in one of the french artists music I have been listening to, it is like a little light comes on in my head when I recognize the word. What started out as a way to learn more french by trying to immerse myself in the music and culture, has become a new found love of French language music. I have been listening to Cœur De Pirate, Stanislas, and Jacques Brel for several months now.
The music of Coeur De Pirate is unique in its mix of heartfelt poetic expression and great piano work, this is the kind of music I love no matter what the language of choice is. This is what music should be.
The New Raspberry Pi Zero.
The Raspberry Pi foundation has released the new Pi Zero, which comes in at an absolutely amazing $5 price. They are of course totally sold out so I can’t get my paws on one yet, but even so I know this is going to be amazing. I was excited about the size and cost of the model A+ which was $25. Now the tiny size of this new one opens up new avenues of creativity. The size is what I am all exited about, the price is just a nice bonus.
I was planning to do a keyboard computer conversion using a model A on a Apple IIGS keyboard, but now I think I will wait and get my hands on a model Zero for the conversion. In some ways the Model Zero makes the project even a little less impressive since it is so small. I am glad they didn’t populate the GPIO pins on this one, I had to de-solder the pins on one of my last projects, and I like that I can wire directly to the header with this one.
The Pi foundation has been very successful in promoting their single-board computers as learning tools for kids (or really anyone) getting into computers. They are low-cost and have an easy learning curve, so people who might otherwise be intimidated can start making things and experiment with programming and making electronics.. I am very impressed with what they have done.
This little micro board computer is vastly more powerful than my first computer: The ATARI 1200XL and it is smaller than a credit-card.
Truly amazing, I can’t wait to get one and start playing!
Where do we go from here?
Anticlimax is the word I would use to describe the state of the world at the moment. As humanity as a whole we no longer really have a goal. The world has shrunken and become less interesting as more and more exploration and discovery have lessened the mystery around us, replacing full questions with half-answers.
In the time of the Reformation and the Renaissance: the intellectual pursuits were knowledge and discovery for their own sakes. In the industrial revolution that came after; thinkers were replaced with consumers, and nation-states with alliances of nations that span the globe. What used to be petty wars between small entities became global conflicts that pushed humanity to the edge of destruction, and spawned the construction of weapons that for the first time in history have the power to destroy completely their own creators.
Tell me, where do we go from here?
To the stars? Or do we turn inwards and lose ourselves in the process?
I would be happy to say we will someday have colonies on Mars and perhaps in the high cloud-tops of Venus, but I fear that we are so close to a tipping point, that a mere breath will push us over the brink into destruction. The ‘modern world’ has been saved from the edge of destruction before, can we save it from ourselves again?
Years ago I took the Myer-Briggs Personality Type test, which is based on Carl Jung’s Personality Types, and I got an INTP result.
I took the test again today, and voila! got INTP-A again, so I used another site with slightly different question wording, and got INTP-A once more… so I would say that at-least as far as this test is concerned, the results are pretty consistent.
I read the generic description of the INTP type: http://www.16personalities.com/intp-personality and found it to be fairly accurate, a little like looking into a personality mirror. I don’t really put a lot of stock in psychology in general, since so much of it is subjective and based on the flexible opinion of whoever is writing the book, and very little concrete logical analysis, but I have found the Myers-Briggs test fascinating, and I do have respect for Jung -much more than for Freud at-least. Jung seems more down-to-earth and more fascinating than his more well known colleague: Freud.
Forget Me Not 1918
These pressed flowers were in a book I bought many years ago at a garage sale. I have kept the worm eaten book and these flowers for many years because they are special. I don’t know the story, I don’t know if this was a funeral bouquet for a fallen soldier, or an influenza victim, they may have been grown on the front and sent home to loved-ones, they may have nothing to do with the war: they might be a lovers bouquet, or just some flowers gathered in the springtime….
But I know that they have survived the years and were waiting for me to discover them. What years have passed into the dust of history, great men have risen through the ranks, to command despotic empires that have fallen crumbling into forgetfulness, and these small blooms have waited pressed between the mouldering leaves of a novel on a shelf.
Nations have risen in hope from the turmoil of revolution and then dissolved in chaos back again to rust and neglect, all while these little fragile spots of color waited for someone to notice them. What secrets could they tell us about the frailty of human lives and the short sharp pain of loss, if we would only listen? Someone picked these little springtime flowers and carefully tied them with string, and dated them. They pressed them between the pages of this book, and then time came swirling by and took all the meaning and memory away slowly and with gnawing blunt teeth.
No one knows now why they were picked and preserved, no one knows their story. What whispered lovers secrets were told in their presence? What fleeting kisses stolen on a secluded hillside awash with verdant springtime rainbows? These little flowers have a story to tell, but no lips to speak them with.
I will keep them so that they will outlive me, and their next discoverer can ponder the abyss of time also.
This is my Cuneiform Epitaph.
Scratches on clay the remnants of lives, tiny sparks that winked brightly and then went out; time consuming the present moment by moment, Langoliers following closely behind, watching for scraps and pouncing on wasted time.
When flesh grows cold, and entropy consumes blood, bones, and essence leaving nothing for the dusty shrines in the desert. Perhaps some would-be excavator will unearth or draw up from the bog and weedy rushes some ancient oxygen deprived preserved mystery. Some brine soaked encrusted memory devoid of identity. What sharpened flint points of logic and rhetoric will be discussed in papers of those learned and versed in the unknowable?
As Ötzi mulled over pre-stoic ideals and post-grazing utopias while munching roots and mushrooms, I am hunched before this scrap of plant fibers mashed down, boiled over and pressed out. I grasp my blunt tool and bleed dark Voynician prayers to the Old Ones still hidden in deep cold abysses of time and dark water.
Sawgrass riptide, silicate crystals smeared across my toes,
the pressed down deepened holes in the burning white,
where I run down to the harder pressed darker expanse of shallow sea.
There are gulls on the edges vision, screeching, diving, salty spray of feathers,
darting, running, scattering sandpipers leave tiny scratches on the hard-packed sandy horizon.
crushed bits of shell, tossed up to my cool twisting toes by the urgent surf, a gift of shattered pearlescent debris.