Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lost Species of Feeling: Sleep under an Oscillating Fan

Don't know if you have felt this or not. But when I was young, very young, I recall Mom having us take a nap during hot summer afternoons on a pallet on the floor in front of an oscillating fan. I have fond memories of the hum, the waxing and waning, the wind on my hair and covering. Sometimes it was while visiting relatives and several of us are sleeping, that is, it was a family communal thing. I remember a feeling of well being. Dreams were pleasant. There was a feeling of special meaning and significance. I don't know why. I was too young to know the meaning of those words but felt them nonetheless. In retrospect the word liminal may describe it, the state of being on the threshold or between two different existential states. Has anyone else felt this?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bought a Kindle.

Bought a Kindle a week ago. Am enjoying it. Find the book you want, press a button, and you have it. I downloaded a 4000 page collection of Ralph Waldo Emerson's writings that way. Am reading six things at once. Marilyn Robinson's Absence of Mind, Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, Some writings of Edmund Burke and Adam Smith, and a Sherlock Holmes collection. Books published a long time ago tend to be free or 99 cents. Newer books often just $9 but many current books are not yet available. Fun to use.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Response to "A Brief History of Time" Post

S. P. Lunger responded to the original post on "A Brief History of Time". Blogger is doing funny things to the both of us. His response was repeated five times. As I was attempting to delete the extras, it removed all of them. So, I'll repeat his question here and then respond. S. P. said,

I'm curious what you mean by Physicists over-emphasizing physics in explaining the Universe. Are you appealing to the Science for it's realm, Philosophy/Religion for its realm? Or do I misunderstand you?

Sorry to be so vague. My statement was influenced by something I read some four years ago in Nancey Murphy's Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda. And I was referring to what might be considered physics chauvinism as against the other sciences. When I originally read the following passage, I was taken aback and felt a little defensive. But now I am more of a convert to the point of view, despite my having three physics degrees. From Chapter 6 Metaphysical Holism and Divine Action and the section Scientific Developments she writes:

It is now becoming widely recognized by scientists working at a variety of levels in the hierachy of the sciences that while analysis and reduction are important aspects of scientific enquiry, they do not yield a complete or adequate account of the natural world. In simple terms, one has to consider not only the parts of an entity but also its interactions with its environment in order to understand it. Since the entity plus its environment is a more complex system than the entity itself (and therefore higher in the hierarchical ordering of systems), this means that a "top-down" analysis must be considered in addition to a "bottom-up"analysis.

Science writer Silvan Schweber claims that recognition of the failure of the reductionist program has contributed to a crisis in physical theory:

'A deep sense of unease permeates the physical sciences. We are in a time of great change. . . . The underlying assumptions of physics research have shifted. Traditionally, physics has been highly reductionist, analyzing nature in terms of smaller and smaller building blocks and revealing underlying, unifying fundamental laws. In the past this grand vision has bound the subdisciplines together. Now, however, the reductionist approach that has been the hallmark of theoretical physics in the 20th century is being superseded by the investigation of emergent phenomena. . . .

The conceptual dimension of the crisis has its roots in the seeming failure of the reductionist approach, in particular its difficulties accounting for the existence of objective emergent properties. ' (ref according to Murphy is - Silvan S. Schweber, "Physics, Community and the Crisis in Physical Theory, " Physics Today (Nov. 1993) p 34-40.

My current opinion is that though there is plenty to be learned regarding things at the quark level and below, and despite how fascinating and mathematically beautiful string theory is, and how astrophysics continues to astound us, we can nevertheless learn about the fundamental nature of reality by exploring conceptual developments in biology and elsewhere. And we can derive benefit from other formerly distinct disciplines like philosophy, religion, and literature.

The emergent and relational nature of reality seems to me fundamental and I'd like to learn more about it.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

A Brief History of Time

Picked up Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" over the weekend and it was quite enjoyable. Was more familiar with the early parts from school and experience. Was quite happy to learn that Black Holes are not forever but gradually decay. Can't say I followed every argument in detail but got the gist of a lot of it. One question, well I have many, is why we haven't been able to harness the Casimir Effect for space travel, energy production etc. Suppose I should google it. Hawking is a brilliant physicist and knows what's going on in the field. However, physicists probably emphasize too much the explanatory power of physics for explaining the universe. I know because I am one too. But, that is not the whole story by any means. There are emergent properties of reality that seem to me to be outside of physics and are very important.

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