Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Can you think if you can't remember? Do you think you think?

The sound of her silk skirt has stopped
On the marble pavement the dust grows.
Her empty room is cold and still.
Fallen leaves are piled against the doors.
How can I bring my aching heart to rest?
Han Wu - Ti 157 - 87 BC

Sixth emperor of the Han Dynasty (on the death of his mistress), it’s hard to believe that this is 2000 years old. Poetry is outside the scope of quotations and thoughts on thinking. I left this one in because it illustrates that “they were just like us” long ago and hardly “originally stupid”.

Chris says (and she’s in pretty good company):

Denial is the strongest force in the universe.
Christina Bolgiano 1948 -

Men willingly believe what they wish.
Julius Caesar 100 - 44 BC

To have died once is enough.
Virgil 70 - 19 BC

And Molier said much later: We die only once, and for such a long time!

Carpe Diem
Horace 65 - 8 BC

(The rest is “with little thought for posterity.” [although this one can get you into trouble...]). At least that’s what my self-taught Latin translation for “quam minimum credula postero.” is... If you know better feel free to set me straight.

Many receive advice, few profit from it.
Publius Syrus 1st century BC

He also said strike while the iron’s hot, and a rolling stone gathers no moss, and the same shoe doesn’t fit all, and practice makes perfect, and everything’s worth what someone will pay for it, and misery loves company. You get the picture. He was an adage compiler, it’s impossible to know for sure whether anything he said was original but they’re all good. They’re great little packets of obvious truth and they’re all clichés. But he did finish up with:

Everyday should be passed as if it were to be our last.

Whom they have injured they also hate.

Seneca 8 BC 65 AD

He was referring to the Romans and Carthage, but the sentiment is appropriate to so many more situations. We do tend to justify our cruelties either before or after the fact. Our victims deserved it because we hate them. And of course we hate them for good reasons.

A liar should have a good memory.
Quintillian 42 - 118 AD

The great God Pan is dead.
Plutarch 46 - 120 AD

Most folks think of all pre Christian Gods as Pagan, but Plutarch was probably referring to the demise of the Pagan Earth Goddess religion that fell to the Olympian tradition. Every religion that predates our (ONE TRUE) religion is “Pagan” And their Gods and Goddesses have become our Devils. (See my bolg on the Galactic Spaghetti Monster and the Cosmic Ravioli Being.: SO YOU RUE THE LOSS OF RELIGION IN OUR SCHOOLS?)

Plutarch also gave us:

When candles are out all women are fair.

I started reading Plutarch’s History (biography? Lives of Great Men) of Alexander... “Don’t break the furniture!” But I’ve been pulled away by Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. That’s partly how this all got started. Occasionally, I take a wild hair (hare?) to read something really challenging (the original version of these quotes is the result of one of those times. I lost my digital copy of my favorite quotes and had to retype them in order to send off a quote a day (it has mushroomed into this thing you’re reading). Unfortunately, I sure can’t remember them and pull them out when they’re most needed. Now I just recently read: “Never explain, your friends don’t need it and your enemies won’t believe it.” And I can’t remember who said it....sounds like Dorothy Parker though. These quotes have been more or less in chronological order. But occasionally I’m going to mix them up, so here goes the cartoonist, Waterson: Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbs...says:

Why waste time learning when ignorance is instantaneous?

And who can argue with THAT? Not to be out done, Hobbes says:

It’s not the pace of life that worries me it’s that sudden stop at the end.

Back to the ancient past and a few Anonymous Latinisms which most folks know even if they never took Latin:

Flagrante Delicto Sic Semper Tyrannus
Caveat Emptor Errare Humanum Est
In Vino Veritas

I just wonder when these first became clichés (Alcaeus way back ca. 600 BC said, “Wine, dear boy, and truth.”). That’s the amazing thing about reading about the Greeks and the Romans, that they were so much like us. Somewhere I came across an essay about the “point” where/when Homo whatever became “like us”. At what level of cognition, language, and cooperation did we become people rather than “animals”? Whenever it was, I think that it’s cooperation (communication, using language) that’s important. It’s what has allowed us our mental “short cuts” and freed up a lot of brain power. Not to mention that we don’t all have to learn everything the hard way (even though we often do).

After all, 99% of us can’t invent or construct or even explain the workings of 99% of our manufactured goods. People that believe that the world is flat, and that the space aliens have taken over the Government, and that TV psychics can tell the future; still, when banded together and organized, can run a shipyard that builds ocean going vessels. Of course they’re getting information from thousands of wheres and whens and whos (people who know the world is round and even understand the need to plan for forces of shear, tension, compression, torque, friction, and a few million other things, not to mention correolus forces if you want to shoot a cannon at anything that isn’t due east or west). Most of what we know we learned by building on what was alreary known in the past. And we take it all for granted. However good or bad our memories and memory systems are, things would be vastly different if they happened to be more or less efficient. If we had better memories we might not have invented writing.

I look at some 19th century technology and am amazed. And of course the Romans constructed roads and aqueducts that are still in use today (and can you do long division in Roman numerals?). Still, most people today (at least those with stunted historical perspectives) subscribe to the theory of “Original Stupidity”. Many folks believe that people of long ago must have been stupid not to know things like germ caused disease and that a spherical earth revolves and orbits in a heliocentric solar system full of spherical planets (although, there are lots of folks who don’t believe this to this day). Yet most of these same people, even with what they think they know about the world, were they to be plopped on a island without their toys, couldn’t reconstruct a tiny fraction of the information base that the Romans (in their own turn) took for granted. We build on the past but forget that we do it. And what is history but our attempt to remember?

What fraction of the US population believes that every thing of importance has happened within the last few years (probably coinciding with their life spans)? What fraction of even those with some historical perspective essentially believe that everything important has happened since Jesus was born? And everybody who lived prior to Him was of no significant account. But that’s organized Christianity; don’t get me started on that.... So if the communication revolution changed man into the builder on the past, and the written word expanded this and augmented his faulty memory, and this has led to civilization and science and technology, what’s next? If we ever acquire the ability to “download” from one mind directly to another, it will be another revolution for Homo whatever. It will be a revolution in scale that is so great as to be a revolution in quality. Like the dog sized bumble bee that can’t fly or the inch long battleship that sinks, it will be a new thing not just a more efficient thing. Of course, that won’t happen if we decide that we’d rather see how many babies it takes to destroy the ecosystem. My guess is about twelve billion.

He listens well who takes notes.
Dante Alighieri 1265 - 1321

And the theme of memory comes back. But I’ve jumped from 1st century Latin to Dante. Now I know that there were millions of bon motes between errare humanum est and Dante, but I’ll be damned if I know why I haven’t got them here in my file. As I said, I was more or less systematically going through Bartlett’s quotes and they’re chronological, but he has lifted out the Bible as if it were something different than a collection of quotes. Either I skipped over a bunch, or the “Dark Ages” after the fall of Rome was worse than I thought (and still there’s the whole of the New Testament, and regardless of my opinions of organized Christianity, I know there are quite a few lines worth quoting in that. Plus there are the little things like quotes from Constantine, Augustine, Aquinas, Attila, Mohammed, The Venerable Bede, (whom I recently learned was ignorant of Hadrian’s Wall outside his window. He said it was just a hundred years old at the time of his musings. But it was every bit of 500 years old at the time.) Harold, Charlemagne, a slew of venial Popes with names like Innocent that must have said thousands of ironic things like, “You believe that the universe is infinite? Off with your head, right after we burn you!” (and the two Popes who excommunicated each other, if we only knew which one is in Hell now....), Frederick the Great. There’s Abelard, Saladin ( I more than recognize my ignorance of eastern civilization), Attila, and later Genghis, Mangu, and Kublai Khans...

I do recall a story about Kublai Khan: Rather than a slavering subhuman, he was an able and intelligent ruler and therefore a lover of knowledge. Apparently in 1269 he sent envoys (back with Polo the elder) to Theodosius asking to be sent the 100 “wisest men of the realm” for the purpose of exchange of wisdom. He was sent two Dominican priests who were then in a protracted debate about one of Christianity’s arcane heresies, not to mention the politics surrounding the election of the recent Pope. I don’t think that they ever even made it to the Khan.

I’m reminded of the period when Christian Doctrine was being codified into a unified structure (as opposed to being just another political battle ground.) Something about the Athanasian Creed, and the Arians, Sabellians, and Trinitarians who were into it about various “mysteries” concerning the nature of Jesus/God. The Trinitarians won [of course they would, they had the most ridiculous and presumptuous position concerning the nature of God’s relation to Himself; which is always an irrefutable point to argue from.] This was about when Attila the Hun was boss. He was probably correct not to waste his time talking to those bozos. The Church filled the vacuum of power due to the fall of Rome and they used it, abused it and defined it in their own terms, most of which make little or no sense to us no matter how hard we might try. But Hey! We’ve still got the Trinity; it’s no worse that waving a dead chicken over your head at midnight.

Anyway, I look forward to Gibbon’s discussion of this period, I’m sure he’ll fill me in on a lot that I’ve missed. Unfortunately, having read H. G. Wells two or three times, I still can’t keep it all straight, and his version is likely to be shorter and therefore easier to remember. So much for my own historical perspective. I guess that I have to be content with the fact that at least I know that I’m ignorant. [Socrates] And take solace in the fact that I’m not alone:

What experience and history teach us is this - that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.
G. W. F. Hegel 1770 - 1856

Those who do not learn from the past are destined to repeat it.
George Santayna 1863 - 1952

How can this be?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I don't pretend to understand

We all pretend so much more than we realize.   We pretend that we aren't pretending.

Perception, reality, what are we doing here? What am I doing here? What do we take for granted? Do we take for granted that we take many things for granted?  Yes! we do.  Do we take for granted that we aren't pretending (is that pretending?  Yes it is), Yes we do that too.

I can’t believe it. The paradigm is that we pretend to accept, during each and every conversation, every communication, every meeting of the bodies, that there almost always is a meeting of the minds.  We pretend that we are using words that have the same definitions for both speaker and listener. We accept and believe, or pretend to believe, what we hear – IN ORDER TO BE BELIEVED.  Or at least in order to pretend that we are believing. And we have to unless we want to be outcasts. We compromise our vocabulary and our standards of precision of communication.  Social interaction demands it.

Recall the myth, the "fairy tale" of the "honest man", the person that refuses to "lie", to tell a single falsehood? It always results in a tragedy. A bad end. An irony. A result that doesn’t seem to match the sentiments of the effort. The desires of the one striving to be "pure", honest, in other words – the one who stops pretending can't get along, can't be accepted.

More Heliose advice

Well Heloise, it’s been awhile since I last wrote to you but the other day I figured out something that might be of help to your readers. I’m sure that we’re all eager to add to our road kill skull collections but sometimes the "road kills" that we find are a little too far gone to handle. I’m sure that we’ve all passed up some nice specimens just because they were kinda "high". Well. Our neighbors, John and Janet, had some jerk shoot a really big bear on their property and the poor thing wasn’t found until 9 days later. It’d been warm here so you can imagine. But what a shame it would be to waste a perfectly good bear skull by letting the coyotes run off with it. Well I thought; some folks might not be able to do this (remove the head) and to tell the truth, I wasn’t sure that I could either. I mean it was a 400 pound bear and the smell of cadaverine and the buzzing of the flies, not to mention the heat and the pale seething mass of maggots... well you get the picture. We none of us know how we might react to these things once the flailing of the ax gets serious.
Well the hint is: get one of those dust masks (or even a rag) and put some of that good old Dr. Bronner’s Castille Peppermint Hemp soap on it. Wear that over your nose while you’re chopping and slicing and you’ll be just fine. I never even got close to that "Whoops" moment and I hardly sweated at all. I’m sure that this will be a help to your readers.

Your redneck friends R & D

Dear Heloise:
As you know, the milky spore dust that is effective against Japanese Beetle larvae is very expensive. If you read the list of ingredients you see that about 99% of the dust is inert filler. It’s just "dilution" to increase the volume and allow you to more easily handle the treatment. Besides, would we buy it if it cost the same and came in a one tenth ounce package? Well if dilution is the game, and ease of application is the goal and protection against drying is recommended (they tell you to apply prior to rain or to water it in), then why not just mix the dust with water? A few tablespoons of treatment in an old gallon milk jug well shaken is far easier to disperse around your lawn than any kind of dusting strategy. You just walk around and shake out the water. You can spread out your treatments and get far better coverage from the few ounces of dust if you apply it in this manner.
I hope this helps all your readers.

If you’ve ever had a problem with ants or other insects climbing down the hanger and getting into your humming bird feeder and contaminating the sugar water, here’s a trick that really works well.
Cut about a inch off the bottom of any plastic bottle that has the "champagne bottle" shaped bottom. This gives you a hollow half of a torus. Now just thread some fairly stiff copper wire (like # 14 gauge) through a hole in the high part in the middle of the half torus. By putting a knot or even twisting some lighter wire around this wire, you can support the torus in the middle and the wire passing through will be your hanger. By using soft copper, you can attach any kind of extension to the top or any kind of hook to the bottom and hang you feeder below the torus. Now all you have to do is put some oil in the torus and the ants would have to walk or swim through oil to get down the wire to you feeder. They won’t do it. I use chain saw bar oil. It doesn’t evaporate (I’ve used the same trap for three years without having to replenish it).
A good wheel barrel is a useful tool but we all tend to kind of abuse it. After all, it’s designed to have stuff piled into it and then dumped out. Rocks and dirt and concrete are pretty abrasive and then the metal can rust pretty badly. Well the front lip of the barrel where the majority of the wear takes place can be easily protected by slipping a length of old garden hose over the front lip. It also protects more fragile things like good lumber or anything you might want to move with the barrel from being scratched by the beat up front lip.

So Heloise, how YOU doin’?

The search for Truth

I am looking for an honest man.
Diogenes (the Cynic) 400 - 325 BC

Remember the chicken feathers? Here’s a story about Diogenes from a footnote in Bartlett’s: Plato having defined man to be a two legged animal without feathers, [Woody Allen!] Diogenes plucked a chicken and brought it to the Academy, and said, “This is Plato’s man.” On which account this addition was made to the definition: “With broad flat nails.”

Talk about your bandaide fixes! No wonder he was a cynic. Even after having their lunch handed to them by Diogenes, the members of the Academy still didn’t get it. And they were supposed to be the wise guys. I suspect that this episode predates the time of Aristotle’s rigorous logic. Or more likely proves the point that just because the rules of logic have been explicated, doesn’t mean that the politicians will use them when flim flam and obscuration will work just as well.

I’m not sure that Diogenes actually said the honest man thing (Aesop did) but if he was wandering around with that lamp and didn’t ask, then he wasn’t firing on all cylinders. It’s a great image, the man with the lamp. A great many people will recognize it immediately. Our collective gestalt of images in our culture is another of the things we take for granted. But it allows us to communicate so much more effectively. I suppose that this is one of those things that translators and diplomats have to be cognizant of. If they’re not, then the risk of miscommunication is significant. So it really frightens me that diplomatic posts are political rewards passed out after the campaign has been successful. It’s documented that George W. passed out important posts to near idiot wet behind the ears Jesus freak idealogues in Iraq (the Iraqis are Moslems!). That really helped the cause (even if you WANT to convert them to Christianity, don’t send the least qualified people you can find). They were likely to have said something like:

If English was good enough for Jesus Christ it’s good enough for me.

This is a semi-quote I read somewhere. Unfortunately, I don’t know where I read it nor did the quoter reveal the quotee. But it was attributed to a US Congressman from the Bible Belt voicing his concerns about the erosion of our great Nation because some folks are so ignorant that they don’t speak English like he does. Which requires me to jump out of chronological order again to:

Against stupidity the very Gods Themselves contend in vain.
Freidrick Von Schiller 1759 - 1805

And coincidentally back to Diogenes’ on my list is:

QED Quod Erat Demonstradum (should I translate? That which was to be demonstrated [proven])
Euclid 300 BC

I think that I did too.

I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.
Chuang Tzu 369 - 286 BC

This one isn’t anything like an adage but it makes you think, and it moved me because I once had a dream wherein I dreamed that I was sleeping and dreaming that I was sleeping and dreaming. That night I was awakened from a vivid dream by lights and voices on my porch in the Broadway house. As I struggled to rise, I awoke and found myself in my bed in Fulks Run. I again tried to rise to go outside, only to awaken again in a different house in a different Fulks Run. I just lay there for a long time. I sometimes wonder if I’m still sleeping somewhere. I guess if you’re reading this, I’m not, unless you’re in my dream too.

Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.
Theophrastus D. 278 BC

When asked at a very advanced age why he was studying geometry, Lacydes said:

If I should not be learning now, when should I be?
Lacydes ca. 241 BC

Give me where to stand, and I will move the earth.
Archimedes 287 - 212 BC