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