Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Little Romp Through My Personal Library

The greatest ideas are the greatest events.


I only have one criteria for selecting reading material. It must connect me with a sentiment that is pleasurable for my brain to contemplate.

Arguably we are influenced by what we read, and in some cases, by what we don't read. Generations of intellectuals have fostered an appreciation for wisdom writing, for those subjects that inspire personal reflection, a quest for sagacity and insight that might bring solace and clarity to the many experiences of living.

There are also those reading experiences that help us learn about the triumph of time. We as an interval, and then our place is no more.

But what is the use of reading, if it can be reached only in solitude, or by reflecting on our reading? We know that most of what we have ever learned flies out the window when we are in crisis. How do we maintain the integrity of that which we learn and make it our own?

For me the answer to this question has been writing and reflecting about those things I introduce into my brain. Naturally I am more influenced by those subjects on which I have a deeper understanding, but new information is difficult to resist. It introduces my brain to an unknown protagonist that expands my insight into the inner worlds of other people.

Since childhood, I have been comforted by literature. Adventures in imaginary lands, whose landscapes I know as well as any contemporary city in which I have lived.

Frolicking through King Solomon's mines, discovered by Allan Quatermain's expedition to Kukuanaland, Africa, in 1884 ... the Three Witches Mountain, The Silent Ones, the Place of Death, and the secret door, opened only by means of a mysterious device, which leads us into the Chamber of Solomon's Treasure, where over four hundred elephant tusks, trunks full of gold pieces and uncut diamonds of many sizes lie scattered ...

Closing that door, I might instead visit Poe's Island of the Fay, that small, round island in a river, near a waterfall, somewhere in the mountains of the United States, where the grass is short, springy, sweet-scented, and interspersed with asphodel. The trees are lithe, mirthful, erect, bright, slender, graceful as Eastern figures, with a smooth, glossy and particoloured bark.

I meander, over to the eastern end of the island and lie in the blackest shade to contemplate the lifecycles of the Fays, which are brief; every time they go from light to shade, it is as if they went from summer to winter.

Whether visiting Moreau's island or Middle Earth, the stories shared and lamented throughout history transfer our innate disenchantment, the one that sends us questing for meaning, and exchanges it for the tragic vision of the Iliad or the superb primal authority of ancient wisdom writings that draw us out of our egocentric predicament with their rhetorical hooks.

A variety of subjects evoke my many internal passions, but none bring me home like the writings of Plato, by which I cross the metaphorical sea to Socrates and join his expedition for wisdom. Never have I read so subtle an ironist than he.

Only Homer himself stood before Plato, and that comment is based by strictly literary criteria. The mental fight, however, Plato won hands down. Homer was a teacher of the Greeks, and Plato the enigmatic chronicler of western enlightenment.

The Aristophanesian farces, i.e., the Clouds (424 BCE), today's modern equivalent of what often passes for humor, are surely good for a laugh or two, but are, in the end, nothing more than a genial dismissal of human failings in which I find no solace.

What captures my attention most is that superb dialogue, the sublimely ironic fiction, a Deuteronomian hero that introduces me to what true mastery over an unsurpassed control of irony looks like. This catches my sense of urgency in my own determination to triumph over the experience of living, even while held within it.

A capsule of our inner life is largely given to us by what we read. The literary arts evokes that ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy (Republic 607B), and snatches lyric and comic verse that have nothing to do with philosophy but that do speak of pompous and arragont types who may win a reputation among the undiscerning.

The turning point is digesting that which we intellectually consume to make its presence meaningful, to improve our behavior and reminds us that even the best writers can creatively misread their own sharings.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Thank God It's Friday: ISO 8601

Friday is the day after Thursday and precedes Saturday. Countries that adopt the Monday-first convention, as recommended by ISO 8601, perceive Friday as the last day of the workweek and the beginning of le beau week-end. 

The International Organization for Standard (ISO) 8601 was first published in 1988 and represents the exchange of date and time-related data. 

It relates to the dates in the Gregorian calendar, and operates on a 24-hour timekeeping system, time intervals and combinations thereof. 

While the standard does not assign any specific meaning to elements of the date/time to be represented, the meaning of Friday depends on the context of its use. 

Most people in the English-speaking world are familiar with TGIF, the acronym that stands for "Thank God It's Friday!" or "Thank Goodness It's Friday". 

Not surprising, Thursdays and Fridays are two of the best days [of the week] to post on social media

According to Buffer Social, engagement increases nearly 20%. 

But, from where does our culture's fascination with Friday originate? 

A quick Internet search of "Friday" will lead you to the Old English Frīġedæġ, meaning the "day of Frige," an association with the goddess Frigg or with the Roman goddess Venus

Venus on Seashell (1st Century CE) 
Roman copy of the famous portrait of Campaspe, mistress of Alexander the Great
Fresco, dug out in 1960
Pompei, Casa di Venus

Venus is the Roman interpretation of the Greek Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty and sensuality

In Hesiod's Theogony, she was born from Uranus's reluctant offering to the sea, roused by Cronus. She then rose from the sea foam (aphros) ... 

La nascita di Venere (The Birth of Venus) 1483-85
Sandro Botticelli (1445 - 1510)
Tempera on panel
Uffizi Gallery

Her festival, Aphrodisia, was celebrated across Greece, inspiring creative forms of worship. By the 4th century, Attic philosophers drew a distinction between Aprodite Urania as a more celestial Aphrodite who represented higher, or transcendent spiritual love, and Aphrodite Pandemos, the goddess representing earthly, non-spiritual love. 

Urania Pio-Clementino (4th Century BCE)
Muse of astronomy
Roman copy, Marble

Urania is the name used in astronomical observatories such as the Urania in Berlin. Optics and optical instruments used in astronomical telescopes are also regulated by International Standards Organization, ISO 14134:2006

Frigg spun the clouds, Venus rose from the foam, Aphrodite inspired creativity, and Urania guards the stars

*Cloud computing was conceived of by Kurt Vonnegut on a Friday after work, he was tired of doing "all the heavy thinking for everybody" and invented the cloud, writing about it in his book Sirens of Titan (1959) ... 

(Quantum) Foam refers to space-time foam, a concept in quantum mechanics devised by John Wheeler in 1955, and is used as a qualitative description of subatomic space-time turbulence at extremely small distances (think Planck length). At such small scales of time and space, ISO 8601 goes out the window, barely able to describe the phenomenon without violating physical conservation laws. 

These days there's hardly a mission statement that doesn't include the word Creativity, or a CEO who doesn't laud it. But despite the maddening rise in the use of the word, studies suggest that creativity is at an all time high on Fridays on account of all the people trying to "creatively get out of Friday afternoon meetings." 

Whether Friday originated in the stars or in standards, people are less creative when they are fighting the clock, which results in the condition known as time-pressure hangover, a condition alleviated only by the embracing the ancient tradition of celebrating Friday! 

*I do not know on which day Kurt Vonnegut conceived of the "Cloud" but it makes the article sound more compelling. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Opinion on Everything

The Ancient Greek aphorism, “know thyself” was inscribed in the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi according to the Greek periegetic (travelogue) writer Pausanias. 

The first time I heard this aphorism I felt humbled by it. The sentiment that arose within me was one associated with honest inward reflection. In later years I read that in the Suda, the 10th century encyclopedia of Greek knowledge, the proverb “applied to those whose boasts exceed what they are” and that “know thyself” was a warning to pay no attention to the opinion of the multitude.  There is a similar reference in Aristophane's Clouds, a dialogue between the father and son with respect to the son's lack of learning. 

I hadn’t originally conceived of this aphorism from the second perspective, but I see how that too is a truism. Sometimes we do claim more authority than we possess, and of course, focusing our attention on the opinions of the masses only drowns out our own internal regulator of personal truth. However you wish to interpret the concept, it has wisdom written all over it. 

If we know ourselves no one can deceive us. This is not to say that people cannot lie to us and have us believe them, but the moment we blame shift is the moment we forget the role we play in the experience. We can chose to play the self-righteous victim, or we can chose to play the observer, examining human behavior instead of reacting to it.

Of course, this is not so easily done when the emotions are triggered, but knowing that we have this choice is a step in the right direction. And by right, I mean less emotionally tasking. 

I’m not saying that we continue to associate with people who deceive us. We can chose instead to disassociate ourselves because it is not right for us to have them in our lives. Excluding people from our lives solely as emotional reaction keeps us stuck in that vicious circle of blame and regret/anger and sadness that so many people experience in interpersonal relationships.

The trick to following sage advice is to know how to live in accordance with its meaning. While Socrates was not the first to express this concept, he most certainly ascribed truth to it. In fact the foundation of thinking stemmed from these two seemingly contradictory concepts: know thyself and I know that I know nothing

If I know that I know nothing, how can I ever know myself? This might make for an interesting philosophical dialogue, but it is a discussion for another day.

Now back to my opinion on everything ... 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

L'amour soulève les énergies brisées

Irina Vitalievna Karkabi


L'amour n'est pas seulement un moyen
c'est le but essentiel de la vie

Toute expression de l'affection apporte
un renouveau de l'enthousiasme
de la qualité de vie
des objectifs heureux pour l'avenir

L'amour a la capacité de stimuler l'organisme
et de lui offrir des réponses immunitaires
que confèrent de la résistance aux cellules
qui lutte contre les maladies envahissantes

L'amour soulève les énergies brisées
et il est essentiel pour la préservation de la vie

Voilà! pourquoi personne ne peut vivre sans un quantité
importante et variée


Love is not just a means
it is the essential purpose of life

Any expression of affection brings
a renewed enthusiasm
quality of life
happy future goals

Love has the ability to stimulate the body
and offer it immune responses
that confer resistance to the cells
that fight against invasive disease

Love raises broken energy
and is essential for the preservation of life

Now! [we know] why no one can live without such a quantity
important and varied
[such as] love

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Quantum Entanglement between Soulmates

Soulmates are often defined as those individuals who share a deep natural affinity. When most think of soulmates, they instantly think of star-crossed lovers who magically find their way back to one another, and when they do, fireworks explode! 

Film 'Marie Antoinette' by Sofia Coppola
depicting Marie Antoinette and Count Hans Axel von Fersen the Younger


Quantum entanglement is the notion that a single particle or object can exist in more than one state at once. A particle can have two different positions, orientations, and charges at the same time, but will only specifically reveal one of these states when observed or measured.

This theory also suggests that two particles, miles, or light-years apart, can be linked by their quantum state. If one particle at one end of the universe switches its orientation, another particle on the other side would instantly change as well.

Assuming that Einstein's galactic speed limit - the speed of light - is not strictly enforced, assuming that it is the particles that are linked and not only some field or wave affecting the particles, then the idea of quantum entanglement, that 'spooky action at a distance' concept would expand our perspective of local-realism. In other words, our realism would extend far beyond our localized experience or perception of existence.


For fun, let us hypothesize that separated quantum systems exist in an entangled state, and let us also hypothesize that these states are held or flow through the human body. 

The dynamics of the combined theory (quantum entanglement + soulmates) would characterize the affinity or shared state reported by people for centuries. 

But that's not all, folks! 
Let us introduce an additional concept into our scientifically absurd theory:


The doctrine of reincarnation was formulated in India sometime around the 9th century BCE, when the Brahmana writings were composed. The Upanishads defined the concept in clearer terms between the 7th and 5th centuries BCE. The idea was later adopted in other Eastern religions (Jainism and Chinese Taoism) due to the spread of Buddhism in Asia. 

Pythagoras (ca. 570-490 BCE) also reportedly proposed that the soul* was immortal and went through a series of reincarnations, a long cycle that results in many lives and bodies.

Quantum Entanglement 
+ Soulmates 
+ Reincarnation 

We now have the foundation for the next question:

What if we are our own soulmates? 

If we play around with the theory of reincarnation and its possibility residing in proving quantum entanglement true, then:

  1. Quantum entanglement makes possible the notion of soulmates
  2. The notion of soulmate is not limited to the entity with whom we may or may not be cosmically predestined 
  3. Therefore a soulmate could extend to a former incarnation, an entity with whom we are quantum-ly sharing a common soul or particle(s)

These concepts represent a mind a play. They cannot be proven by classical physicists and are therefore indulgent hypotheticals.

Back Story

Wise men speak because they have something to say; 
Fools, because they have to say something.

Plato in his dialogue The Symposium, has Aristophanes recount a story about soulmates. Aristophanes describes soulmates as those early humans who had four arms, four legs, and a single head with two faces. There were among these early humans three genders: man, woman and the "Androgynous". The men were children of the sun, the women children of the earth and the Androgynous children of the moon, which was born of the sun and earth.

The gods were jealous of the power the early humans possessed and thus feeling concerned, split them apart. One side benefit was that this would double the tributes humans paid to the gods. However, after being split apart, these new humans were utterly miserable and unable to do anything but wallow for the love they had lost.

Finally, Apollo took pity upon them and sewed them back together; the navel being the physical reminder of their original existence.

From this day forth every human instinctively searches for his or her other half. It is said that when the two find each other, not even death can divide them.

Star-Crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet

*Socrates gave us the modern notion of the soul as being something that resides within us rather than the ghostly alternative that exists separate from us, hanging out at the entrance of the underworld.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Visualizing Data

I love information, but like most people, I process information faster with pictures, graphs, graphics, charts, and meaningful images.

About ten years ago I came across the work of Edward Tufte, an American statistician and professor emeritus of political science, statistics, and computer science at Yale University. He is also an artist (his Feynman diagram sculptures are interesting), and an expert in the presentation of informational graphics (think charts and diagrams). His books Visual Explanations, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (the first of his books I read), Envisioning Information, and Beautiful Evidence bring together science and art in a way that generates what we call visual information.

Everyone talks about information, but what exactly is information? 

Information is an abstract concept, a notion or idea we intuit. What we intuit could be a theme embodied in a design or a concept through which we mentally travel. As we do, we focus on the data points and associate meaningful images to represent those points. 

Take for example the above infographic which only provides us with numbers and a small iconographic representation of a human being in a specific occupation or stage of life. 

But we don't just read this infographic, we visualize the data it provides. We think of little kids playing in the park and of the people working at our favorite restaurants. We're probably all surprised that there are 1.4 billion people working in agriculture around the world. Next we mentally scan the list of industrial jobs and think about what people do in those jobs. We visualize baby boomers and senior citizens, and some of us are concerned about all the unemployed people (and their families) in the world. Then we imagine what life might be like if we forge our own path, make our own mark on the world ... Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Walt Disney, Sam Walton, Larry Page ... 

When data is presented in meaningful terms, we contribute to the visual experience with our own knowledge of the world. In other words we interact with the data. 

Of all the words in the two above paragraphs 'we interact with the data' stood out to our brains because of the way space is represented in the brain. 

Bold text makes a greater impression than ordinary text. 

The more information we produce, the more visual our language will become. When we want to compare and contrast information, the fastest way to process this information is to compare the data side by side. No one has time to waste reading through countless pages of consumer reports. 

Graphic information is only as sound as the data supporting it, and is often times presented with a bias. Companies wanting you to buy one product over the other will highlight certain information and leave other information out. 

Processing, analyzing and communicating data presents a variety of ethical and analytical challenges. Data scientists admit that data visualization is both an art and a science. Given the rate we are generating "Big Data" (data created by internet activity and an expanding number of sensors in the environment, such as satellites and traffic cameras), making information more meaningful and more easily digested becomes one of our next greatest challenges. 

The way in which we present information or design it should support the analytical task, showing the comparison or causality. 

In this respect, graphic displays should: 

  • show the data
  • induce the viewer to think about the substance rather than about methodology, graphic deisgn, the technology of the graphic production or something else
  • avoid distorting what the data has to say
  • present many numbers in a small space
  • make large data sets coherent
  • encourage the eye to compare different pieces of data
  • reveal the data at several levels of detail, from a broad overview to the fine structure
  • serve a reasonably clear purpose: description, exploration, tabulation or decoration
  • be closely integrated with the statistical and verbal descriptions of a data set

Essentially graphics reveal data. 

Information can also be presented in humorous ways. The more engaging the graphic, the higher the likelihood someone will invest the time to read it. 

When information is presented in very simple terms such as in this happiness flow chart, it is almost impossible not to read it. Our brains instantly scan the words, while the interrelatedness needs to be conceptualized. 

But data still has to be abstracted in some schematic form. Its attributes and variables have to be extracted and transformed into units of information. As with any form of communication, the intention of the message and the audience to whom it is delivered are key factors. 

The primary goal of presenting information with graphics, plots, information graphics, tables, and charts is to communication information clearly and efficiently. Visualizing information is something we do naturally. Visuals that speed up the process help us make faster decisions. We also remember this information longer. Even a familiar quote is more memorable when we see it presented in a more visually engaging format. 

In a nutshell ...

We can more easily distinguish differences in line length, shape orientation, and color (hue) without significant processing effort; these pre-attentive attributes are what save us time and effort in attentive processing. 

Effective graphics take advantage of pre-attentive processing and the attributes that strengthen this processing. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Language of Silence

What does silence say?
Why do we use language in such a way?
To transcend from its logical form and informative purpose,
or to reflect times when we are unable to articulate?

Should we fill it up with words?
Shall we confront silence with language,
or visa versa?

What world does silence encompass?
What limits of language redefine it?
Is it a nihilistic inner logic,
or pure reflective consciousness, unmediated by thought?

Is silence bereft of meaning,
or only comfort?
Is language the mundane physicalness of things we sculpt?

How is silence understood?

As a denial of what it is not,
as a contrasting role between what we say 
and what we keep for ourselves...
Can we preserve silence,
through the conjunction of one upon the other?

Can formal theories of language define it?
Which states serve its purpose?
Against which reality can we measure it?

Without proof of its existence,
does it collapse?
... and then find itself later recognized essentially as meaningless?
since meaning consists precisely in our ability
to connect through language...

Is silence the boundary of language?
Is the idea of silence our concern with the ineffable?

Is silent reading silence?
Is silence the unutterable where nothing gets lost?
Can something be contained in silence?

What can silence say clearly?

To answer such a question,
we find ourselves in a place where language is shorn of its ability
to make sense of silence.

Is keeping silent in the context of hearing?
Does it require a full understanding of itself?
Does it travel at a faster pace than sound?

Is it still silence if we are listening for it?
Is it part of dialogue?
A deeper part of listening?
Do we learn about language through silence?

Is it a state-of-mind or a mood?
Is it a loss of self,
or conscious discourse?

Can we hear it?

Is silence an awareness of it's own impending annihilation?
Destroyed by sound...

Is it freedom from sound,
in harmony with its own nature?

Is it an inverted form of metaphysics?
An inner logic belonging to thinking and not speech.

Is it asound?
Does it have a nature?
Is it a flaw of language?

What does it control?
Is it illusion or reality?

Does thinking fill the space of silence?
Are monologues running hysterically rampant within it?

Is it a profound meditation on the impact of itself?
Or is it merely sound ceased?

What does its reflection look like?
Do we recognize it in duality?

Is a pause silence?
How long does the pause have to last before it becomes silence?

Is silence merely our respective response to disruption?
Is it finalizing or conceptualizing?

Is it awe-inspiring and beyond our grasp?
Is it a confrontation with words?
Is it art?

Can anything exist within it?
How can we tell?

Can we have silence more than once?
Is all silence the same?
Is it a coming or going, or is it continuous?

Is it an imperfect evidence of nothingness?
Expanding and contracting in our atmosphere
like a lung...

It is imagery, detachable from its inherent physical nature?
Will it stand still forever?

Why are we affected by it so?

Does tension take the place of it?
Does movement bring it to an end?

Is it transcendent?

Does it speak to us directly?
Is it an indirect discourse that can only be experienced
when we break it down?

How can we engage with it?
Is it a higher value than truth?

Is silence more authentic than language?
Is it thinkable or unthinkable?

If we are unable to capture it,
how do we know it exists?

Can we conjure it?
Is it disruptive?
Is it meaningful?
Does it bring us together with self and world?

Whatever silence is or is not,
it is in its own unique way,
something that provides us with an opportunity
to discover its modality.

This is when we break the silence,
the source and fountain from which language spills forth ...