A Scientific Breakthrough

Last night CERN’s Large Hadron Collider announced the discovery of the strongest known bond between any two particles on earth: a baby’s fist and her father’s chest hair. Under exact external conditions these two substances tend to bond with incredible force, and afterwards they require massive amounts of energy to force their separation.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Scientists labored exhaustively to create the fine-tuned environment necessary for the bond. It requires very low ambient light and sound, so they had to rouse themselves in the early morning hours to experience the optimal conditions.

The bond also closely relies on the low-energy state of the father-particle, such that the subject must be near-exhaustion to the point of incoherence. Although scientists found that after the bond was established, the previously dormant particle’s energy output increased rapidly and exponentially as it moved to an excited state.

Scientists were also pleasantly surprised by the dichotomy of the two particles’ entropic tendencies. “The daughter-particle, we’ve found, is highly willing to impart its energy to the surrounding environment,” said one lab-coated interviewee excitedly, “whereas the father-particle not only attempts to suppress its own energy output, but also to limit that of the daughter-particle as well.” Scientists speculated that this was due to the father-particle’s previously established bonds that had slipped into a dormant state, and the particle was, for some reason, unwilling to allow other son- or daughter-particles to also be moved into a higher energy state along with the first daughter-particle.

“It’s an extraordinary development” said CERN in a press release.

When asked about practical applications, a CERN spokesperson was quick to acknowledge limitations: “the raw materials are in short supply, of course, but if we can somehow manage to mass produce baby fists and chest hair in adequate quantities the adhesives industry will undergo a radical transformation.”

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Magic

This week my four-year-old son Liam went to an appointment at the eye doctor. While we were there, both of my children were very curious about everything in the exam room, so we had to say “no, don’t touch that” and “I’m not sure. I think they’re lenses” a lot while we waited. Amelia wanted to push buttons and pull levers. Liam wanted to know what everything was.

When the doctors came in (there were four of them, in two pairs) Liam continued to ask them questions, and they did something that bothered me. On three separate occasions, Liam asked what they did, or how something worked, and they said “It’s magic!”

Now, there’s a long tradition of adults using these kinds of explanations on children. Bill Watterson satirizes it with Calvin’s dad, and it’s hilarious. Enjoy. It wouldn’t bother me much, but Liam was not asking very complicated questions. He wanted to know how they made the animals on the wall move and light up, and how the figure on the end of a popsicle stick changed from one animal to another (it was double-sided).

I like Liam’s eye doctor, and I do not want to complain about him. Rather, I want to talk about magic. There’s a type of skeptical materialism that argues kids should not be taught fairy tales because they teach them to believe in magic, because it is impractical and untrue and all that. I tend to think people who make arguments like that fall into the category of “answer not a fool according to his folly.” If you can’t see the value in fairy tales, there’s no hope for you.

There are things that are magical, and they are the things of the imagination: giants and beanstalks, hobbits and wizards, Aslan, dragons, and Hogwarts. Stories, in general, are magical — even when they are about everyday things.

And of course, there are things that are not magical — like a two-sided picture on a popsicle stick. Electricity is one of those things that tends to cross into both categories. It is scientific, but the nature of it, how it works, and why it works is fantastic. There is a lot to be gained by explaining to a small child how the animals move on the wall because a switch on the desk is sending the outer components of atoms flying along a copper wire to create a magnetic field that turns a motor that makes the hippo open his mouth. I’m not asking the doctor to explain that, but at least say “I have this switch here, that makes them move.” I’d rather have my kid leave with a burning “why?” than a trite explanation.

And let us also never fall into the other trap and settle for material descriptions of magical things. When Liam asks what falling in love is, I can say magical. When he wonders what it would have been like to watch Roger Federer play tennis, I can say magical. When he asks how gravity works I can say “no one knows! What do you think?” That’s magic. But I’d hate to think that one day he’d ask what kindness is, and be satisfied with a confused answer of “the same thing that let the eye doctor move the hippo on the wall.”

Electricity becomes magical as one learns about it. All of electromagnetic theory is one vast “well huh, who would’ve thought that?” The whole world becomes magical, but not when it is mystical. The world is magical the more it is understood. That there should be such a world is magical enough. That it should fit inside our brains and be reasonable is delightful. 

Learning about the world and asking questions about it, creates this sort of ontological magic in children (and adults)! Dismissing questions with teleological magic does great damage. The magic we’re after is the good kind of magic of why the world exists at all in the way it exists. Magic is why and false magic is how

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A Shadow Syllabus

A friend of mine posted a link the other day to a Shadow Syllabus that an English teacher had written, and I really enjoyed it. It was inspiring and interesting, so I thought I would try to write one. Here’s the rough draft of it. Perhaps one day I’ll make this a real document and give it out with my regular syllabus, but it’ll have to be a lot less snarky. 

 

A Shadow syllabus.

Learning Objectives for Reading Literature:

Reading means thinking slowly, with other peoples thoughts.

Reading means wrestling like Jacob with God and limping away.

Teachers like to put books on shelves and stick sticky notes in between pages. So we can talk about the Romantic movement and foreshadowing and iambic pentameter and so that we can shield ourselves from the things that wrenched our own feet many years ago.

We like to do the same thing as students because we don’t like other people to tell us what we should find meaningful, and we don’t like to be challenged for a grade. We want to grab our label maker and act like our childhood selves in the 90’s: stamping out the names of everyday objects, peeling off the shiny backing, and wasting our time with what we already know.

A label-maker is supremely useless for educating oneself.

A label-maker is mostly useless for educating others: it only allows one to point to a thing quickly.

Knowing labels can be useful as a mental shorthand for understanding.

And to sound pretentious

 

Learning Objectives for Writing:

Writing is both mystical and practical. To write is to think on paper and that is mystical. To write is to communicate with others and that is practical.

One can communicate without thinking, but that is to invite murder.

One can think without communicating, but that sets oneself up for a persecution complex.

Grammar is to writing what theology is to religion: a little knowledge is absolutely necessary, but they are not the same thing. Studying theology and grammar is exciting and fascinating, but it often turns one into an unbearable hypocrite.

Late Work:

Get. Your. Shit. Together.

Class Participation:

Tear yourself away from your fake digital life and do something. Learn to see a teacher as a resource instead of an authority figure. Get over highschool.

Attendance:

If you don’t want to be here, I don’t want you here.

Sometimes the only reason I’m here is because I need to keep my job.

Student Grading Scale:

A – I worked really hard on this.

B – I’m not sure why I didn’t get an A?

C – I always got good grades in highschool

D – But I wasn’t here that day

F – Do you offer extra credit?

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Words

It’s time, yet again, for another installment of “What’s good in the world?” For today’s entry, I’d like everyone to take a moment and stand, please, with one hand on the heart.

Are you standing? No cheating now. If you’re in a public library or something I’ll give you a pass, but otherwise there’s no excuse and you’ll have to be deducted 5 points at the end of the post.

WORDS

Words are great. I thought about using the term language instead, but language is a dry, boring kind of word. Using language to talk about words is like using math to talk about numbers. No that’s not right, because math, like words, can be beautiful.

Are you feeling the meta yet? Isn’t it awesome? Words are fantastic because they are (nearly) the base unit of meaning. We can’t hardly convey ideas any other way. We can think of ideas in other ways, but we cannot communicate them.

Math is also beautiful, but it’s a different kind of beauty. Math is beautiful because of it’s inescapable logic. Math is certain; one has to push to the very boundaries of mathematics in order to find things that are uncertain and in flux. For most of the rest of math, it operates with near-infinite precision, mapping relationships and ratios, measuring quantities and forces, illustrating logic. Minutephysics has an interesting video about some of the philosophical questions about math, and these are part of the things that make it beautiful. Math is almost separate from reality. In a certain sense, it is the imposition of the intangible ideal upon reality, at least that’s what I remember from geometry.

Words also, get to do this. The struggle of learning to use language well is the struggle to find the words that correctly respond to reality — in many more ways than can be expressed in math.

One of the strange things about words is that sometimes they can not only describe reality — they can make reality. The right word at the right time can change the world — especially when used by the right person. The process of speaking is an intrinsically philosophical act. By engaging another in conversation, we implicitly recognize that both of us exist in a tangible reality, separate from ourselves, and that we can both understand it in the same way. Those who learn how to accurately and effectively describe this reality are those who gain the power to shape it.

This is the real benefit of learning how to read and write in school. When we learn to read, we learn how reality is coded and structured. When we learn to speak and write well, we learn how to change the code and restructure it. By the time we enter high school, we have usually become pretty good at this: from being coded and coding ourselves. We learn the power of single words, labels that gain us entry into select groups, or rockin’ parties.

Just as in science and math, we learn formulas that describe with infallible precision the relationships among things, the sides of a triangle or the structure of water: we learn the word formulas for other things. Poetry is the word formulas for impressions, feelings, ideas. When Hopkins wrote “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” he found the formula for the relationship between nature, human beings, and God.

Sometimes the formulas take more space than any mathematical formula could ever approach. The Sound and the Fury is a formula for sex, religion, death, and family in a certain place and time in the Southern U.S. In writing that novel, Faulkner nailed down reality for a little while so that we can see it, understand it, and understand ourselves in it.

Unlike the reality of Math, which is fixed and ideal, the reality of words is ever changing. That is why we always need poets and poetry. That is why we must always be reading. That is why the goal of education is to make men and women who keep reading.

 

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John’s Last Day on Earth

John had a horrible day, just like any other day.  Every step he took was a dreadful reminder that he was still very much alive.  Today is his last day on earth.  Luckily, he did not care what type of weather he would experience during his last few remaining hours.  John always found a way to see the pointlessness of things. For John, the clear sky intensified the sun’s energy. The plants used it to complete their cycles to postpone their enviable death. John raises an eyebrow as he thinks about the pointlessness of the vegetation’s efforts. In comparisons to the existence of the universe, their death is postponed a mere fraction of a trecentillion second.  The trees, no matter what age they reach, will fall and new resource sucking animated structures will consume it.

The cycle will never end.

John raises both eyebrows as he realized his own cells continue the same pointlessness– this madness– despite his knowledge of this greatest truth.  John shook his head.  It was not truth, he concluded.  Truths are weaved from an abstract nether by those who want to live another day.  John has no need for truths.  It was an obvious logical observation from the brevity of a self-aware rational being.  Whether a truth can stand against adversity and be tenable to the world’s attacking hordes, it did not matter.  Holding such hope and steadfast commitment to an idea, was as reasonable and sound as building a sand castle near the water’s edge during a low tide.  Nature and time forces us back into its fold.

Eager to pass away, John picks up his pace to exit out his city’s park.  John enters a crowded street.  Carbon emission organics clip his shoulders as he quickly weaves through the sidewalk’s human like weeds.  Rounding the corner, the intense motor sulfuric air pulls at John’s nose hairs and scratches his lower frontal lobes while coating the taste on his tongue.   John thanks himself as he remembers that today is his last day. The world’s Homo sapiens, with the pleasantry of an Amorphophallus titanum, would not interfere in his short awaited peace.

In a narrow alleyway, a soft but bright blue light sat on top of a phone booth like structure.  It reads, ‘Phosphorus Reclamation Department.’  John was a bit surprised at the level of protest his nerves expressed.  Their protest is the tachycardia.  Nevertheless, John entered the booth despite the protest.

There was just enough room to sit comfortably in a cream-colored leather chair.  John enjoyed the amount of legroom.  The bright-lighted booth began to dim itself.  The booth’s door closed.  It was unfortunate that John saw the door.  Apparently, given the cosmetic disfigurement of the door and chipped nails embedded into it, some individuals got second thoughts. The air roared past his ears toward the ceiling.  The booth goes dark and silent. As the air thins, the air’s feeble hands tighten around John’s neck. He lets out a loud sigh to encourage his heart to slow. Fresh air began to hiss near his feet.  The stench of stale life purified.

A touch screen burst with life.  A deep blue glow calmed his nerves.  “Well-end,” it said.  John agreed.

“Please take a moment to determine where you would like your remains to be used and distributed.”

The interface was pleasantly simple.  The icons arranged itself similar to tic-tac-toe.  There is an icon resembling a canned meat, the chemical structure of phosphorus pentoxide, the Red Cross, the Forniphilla Company, the International Necrophilia Association, the Eugenics Corporation, the National Endowment of the Arts, the American Carbon Construction Corporation, and a trash can.

John did not hesitate.  John pushed the trash can icon.

“John, are you sure you wish to serve no purpose in regards to your remains?”

John rapidly and continuously pressed yes.

“John, the earth is for the living.  Would you please reconsider?”

John would not.  John, thinking aloud said, “the earth is for the elements.”

Upon pressing yes for the forty-second time, which the program required to finalize a person’s trash icon decision, the pad spoke, “Thank you for contributing to the Population Stability and Creative Problem Solving Initiative.  “Would you like to record a fair well video to love ones?”

John presses no.

“Would you like to have a portion of your ashes mailed to a love one(s)?”

John presses no.

“Would you like to delay your well-end to reflect on your life?”

John presses no.

“Would you like to donate your estate to the United States government, a love one(s), or select from a list of various foundations?”

John is apathetic.  John selected the U.S. government, since it is the least burdensome option.

“Thank you John. For your courage and sacrifice, the Presidential Medal of Freedom has been award to you.  Your relatives will be informed.”

John felt nothing.

The booth goes dark.  The hiss of purified air stops.  The air thins. The silence rings John’s ears.  It is unbearable.  John concludes at this point, most people turn towards the door and attempt to claw themselves out.  John is not like those fearful mammals.  Suddenly, the floor opens.  Between his dangling feet, a red glow meets his eyes.  He thought, ‘this glow’s origin is several hundred feet below.’

The chair flung forward like the bar of a mousetrap. John let out a yelp.  His nerves and heart are no longer controlled.  He spent his last few seconds flailing his arms and legs as the wind whooshed past his head.  The temperature increased and the red glow brightened.  John’s body passes through a BioChip-2000 human chipper as a red mist. The furnace was the catalyst to send John from a lower state of energy into a colorless, but odorous gas.  John pasted through a series of High Efficiency Particulate Air filters.  He exits out into the open air and begins to raise toward the dihydrogen monoxide formations above the city.  The formation will grow heavy and begin to fall on the hot streets.  John will continue this endless cycle.

The earth is for the elements.

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In The Merry Old Land of Aldi

Yesterday, my family and I went grocery shopping at Aldi. Each time we visit Aldi, I remember again that I like it so much, and I was struck with inspiration that this topic should be entered into the record of positivity that I am attempting to construct on the blog.

As soon as I started writing, however, I realized that it’s really tough to write about grocery shopping. This is the third draft.

But I shall endure, and I shall beg indulgence in the endeavor to elucidate the intricacies of the experience.

Like most of you, before I was enlightened, I regarded grocery shopping as a bland matter of necessity. It hardly mattered which store one visited, they were all the same. Each one has a specific type of “deal” like Kroger Bucks ® or Lion’s Share ® or something like that; and shoppers comb the aisles trying to spot the little yellow SALE stickers and rack up their bonus points. Remember the flashing little coupon distributors? Is there anything more like cheese? Anything more like a maze?

And they collect data about us, these experimenters. Get your rewards card now! If you spend a thousand dollars at our store, you can earn STORE CREDIT to buy more stuff in our store! (While we collect and aggregate your shopping habits, run algorithms, and adjust the prices, layout, and lighting of the store; while we use your information to mail more coupons and flyers; while we intrude into even your home life — like us facebook today!)

But I’ve wandered into negative territory. It’s really not that bad, but once I started shopping at Aldi, I recognized it because I saw what shopping could be like without it. There’s not one simple thing that sets Aldi apart. Rather, it is a different attitude that permeates the whole place. An attitude of efficiency. They don’t have rewards points; they don’t accept coupons.

You have to pay a quarter to get your cart, which is refunded when you return it, so the parking lot never, never, has stray carts! And you have to buy grocery bags as well; it’s only 6 cents for a paper bag, but it’s enough that we always remember our reusable bags. And, just in case you don’t know, reusable bags are simply fantastic. You can fit about 6 plastic bags’ worth of groceries into one canvas bag.

While I’m on the subject, you bag your own groceries at Aldi. They have a separate, long counter set up for it. I’m sure I’m not the only one who always watches the check-out workers bag my groceries with constant anxiety. They just throw the stuff in there, and even if they organize it, they don’t organize it well — because they don’t know my house. I can bag my groceries at Aldi based upon which shelf in the pantry they will be placed. You’re not living right until you bag your groceries according to their final destination.

The bagging counter also affords an excellent opportunity for adventure, especially with small children. They’ve usually run out of patience by that time, so you get to bag your groceries while they either fall apart with whining languor, or try to enthusiastically help you. Once, while Liam was operating at an interesting middle pace, he dropped a jar of spaghetti sauce on the floor. The Aldi employees were instantly on the scene, not only with towels, but with a free replacement.

I think I’ve failed again. Third time was not the charm apparently. I was trying to create something along the lines of Dorothy’s entrance into Oz, but reading over it, I think I’ve produced something more like a guided tour of a lawn chair factory.

Let me end with this: I think the best part of Aldi is something I realized during the last visit. There are no impulse buys lining the cash registers. Well, there are a few, but it’s not like everywhere else where you have to wade through a mass of cleavage, loud font, and candy wrappers (and a lane that’s not wide enough for you and your cart for some reason).

It’s nice to not be played for once. That’s it I guess. Shopping at Aldi is not an exercise in Game Theory. I don’t have to count points or keep track of coupons. It doesn’t take everyone an extra minute to check out because they have to fumble for their keychain or recite their phone number or make up an excuse for why they don’t want to get a rewards card today.

If you ever want, I’ll take you shopping there with me. I can’t promise that I’ll serenade you about the wonders of the place, but I bet I can still make a believer out of you.

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Liberty!

Sit back and tell me how you feel when you read the word, Hobby Lobby, Starbucks or Chic-fil-la?  If you are emotional, see two homosexuals kissing in front of the store, or have a bubbling sense of pride with a dash of church like reverence for standing-up-for-principles, I pity you.

When I stop in for a nice freshly brewed dark roast coffee with two sugars and cream at Starbucks in the morning, I want to enjoy it as is.  I don’t want images of Big Daddy Starbucks lecturing shareholders about their disagreement with Starbuck’s support of same-sex marriage.

When I order a delicious chicken nugget meal from Chic-fil-la,  I want to enjoy it without images of God fearing executive managers or defiant homosexuals making out in front of the store.

Nor do I want to wonder around Hobby Lobby in a mindless and torturous purgatory, waiting on my wife to stop looking at the colored plastic flowers, with images of the far left feminist outside protesting their disgust.  Nor do I want to see evangelicals buying crosses and straw baskets just to show their support for a God fearing institution.   

America is walking the streets amongst an innocent and ignorant population.  America is an un-diagnosed and un-medicated individual with severe Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). 

I didn’t see it at first, not until the SCOTUS case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

The court’s opinion was moderate, well thought, and accommodating.  Since America’s media and political commentators have the most severe form NPD, I have to give you facts rather than hyperboles.

Hobby Lobby’s owners are religious.  As you may have heard, they opposed the mandate of contraceptive coverage.  You may NOT have heard, that Hobby Lobby only opposes 4 of the 20 approved contraceptives– specifically the post-fertilization contraceptives.  In the conservative communities, they’re abortion pills.

The court restricted the Reestablishment of Religious Freedom Act in accordance with the Affordable Care Act to privately held (not publicly traded) companies, like Hobby Lobby.  The court gave specific examples of what privately held companies could not contest on the grounds of religion (vaccination, blood transfusions, the other 16 contraceptives etc.).

The left fears proliferation in other areas.  Justice Ginsburg brought out a talking point bazooka with “I fear the court has ventured in a minefield.”  I disagree.   Homosexuals shouldn’t fear proliferation either. 

Hiring a gay employee and providing coverage to his or her family is very different to cost-sharing post-fertilization contraceptives. To the right, they are co-paying murder.

America is anti-authoritarian and very much pro-liberty– on both sides of the political divide.  You may argue that the pro-life agenda is authoritarian but conservatives, libertarians, and some socialist see the aborting mother as depriving liberty from the child or fetus (word varies depending your political bent).  There is a debate there. In which both sides share a common fear, depriving an individual liberty.

Depriving employment and coverage of a homosexual and their family does not have the contest.  The American right, I believe, will get to a point where they view same-sex marriage similar to members of their community holding different denominational beliefs.  I would make a John Stuart Mill reference here, but enough is enough.

 

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