Posts tagged ‘science’

October 13, 2017

“JUST” Words?

by lisa st john

“Language exerts hidden power, like the moon on the tides.” Rita Mae Brown

 

Poetry especially could have a “hidden” power. But just like the moon, we know how it works. It all starts with gravity

 

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” Ludwig Wittgenstein

 

If I have no name for snow, does that mean it doesn’t exist? Of course not. But if I have no word for freedom, that could be a problem. Although, the word freedom has multiple meanings in different contexts for different people. 

The language we use certainly does affect the way we think.

Everything from neuroscience to linguistics points to this. Language affects our perception of the world, not the world itself.

Philosophically, we could argue that our perception IS the world, but that’s another debate.

When our Secretary of Education has no background in education,
when our Federal Communications Commission wants to get rid of net neutrality ,
when the term for lying becomes alternative fact,
is it time to get scared?

Before I decide we are truly living an Orwellian nightmare, I have to think about …thought. Thought and language.

Words shape thought.

Watch this amazing talk on sexual violence and language (or, if you are pressed for time, scroll to 2:35 for his sentence structure example from Julia Penelope). 

Language matters.

“For a long time, the idea that language might shape thought was considered at best untestable and more often simply wrong. What we have learned [however] is that people who speak different languages do indeed think differently … Appreciating its role in constructing our mental lives brings us one step closer to understanding the very nature of humanity.” -Boroditsky from EDGE (an amazingly fabulous website).

What language are we speaking? That’s it’s okay for a man to grab a woman’s pussy? Our children are listening.

“New brain research by USC scientists shows that reading stories is a universal experience that may result in people feeling greater empathy for each other, regardless of cultural origins and differences.” (“Something universal occurs in the brain when it processes stories, regardless of language” Science Daily)

empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

 

“The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.” Philip K. Dick

 

 

Those who speak and write and make art have the power. For now.

 

 

 

September 8, 2017

What is There to Know?

by lisa st john

There is no other system that responds to aerodynamics and fluid dynamics quite like shifting sand.

Physicists have formulae for the behavior of solids, liquids, and gases but do not have an adequate scientific description of granular motion. Granular behavior doesn’t fit neatly into a single physical theory.

 

Long Beach Island

Why do you like games so much?

Because when I’m playing Bocce or Canasta or Scrabble I know there are rules, and if I play by these rules, with a little luck there is a chance I can win. Unlike real life, where you can do everything right and still get screwed.

 

Scrabble tile lost to the bushes

Games have a science behind them. They are analytical and organized, unlike shifting sand. But the beauty of science is that just because something doesn’t fit into a neat little theory is not to say that we know nothing about it. Knowing is not the same as universal truth. Science is based on change. Did the Sun and planets all revolve around the Earth back in Ptolemy’s time? Of course not. But was it “true” (scientifically) back then? Sure.

As artist Tim Minchin says, “Science adjusts it’s views based on what’s observed/Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved./If you show me/ That, say, homeopathy works, Then I will change my mind” (Storm).

I do not mean to discount belief. We must believe that sand moves in mysterious ways in order for us to know it as a fact. We can’t know something and not believe it. Aside from Gettier, knowledge must be justified, true AND believable. This is the logical analysis of knowledge.

Logic is important to me because without it, all we have is guesswork and belief. Logic isn’t always easy though. Take the Gambler’s Fallacy. If I throw two dice ten times and I don’t get a 7 then I am “due” to get a 7 soon, right? Wrong. The dice do not know (or remember) what the previous throws were. Every time you throw it will still be  6/36 chance that you will roll a 7. We tend to believe that we are “due” to get a 7 because it’s instinctual; it’s intuitive. Why do we believe weird things? Watch this 14 minute fun video:

Why am I going on about all of this? Because of fake news and social media and a HUGE lack of scientific, logical thought in our world today. We need sites like Snopes (no, we are not putting Robert E. Lee on the $20 bill) and Politifact (no, Katy Perry did not convince ISIS to lay down their guns) because we aren’t taught to think critically, and it’s a critical time to start.

We need knowledge.

We also need belief.

Crash Davis does not, “believe in Quantum Physics when it comes to matters of the heart,” nor should he. What does he believe in, you ask?

“Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hangin’ curveball, high fiber, good Scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, over-rated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there oughta be a constitutional amendment outlawing AstroTurf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve. And I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days” (Bull Durham).

It’s a great writing/mindfulness exercise. Rewrite Crash’s speech for yourself. I tried it. Here it is:

http://bovano.com/

I believe in double rainbows, the cock, the cunt, the wonder of the universe, the buzz of hummingbirds, real ice cream, red wine, that the poetry of my teenage years was angst-ridden garbage. I believe that Trump did “grab pussy.” I believe there should be a constitutional amendment making rape a high crime like treason and punishable by death. I believe in true love, soulmates, fuck-buddies and that only christians should celebrate Christmas. And I believe in the power of art.

What if we balanced every minute of mainstream media watching with an equal amount of poetry reading?

What if we didn’t comment on social media as much as we danced in our kitchens?

I would like to know.

 

Buy my poetry chapbook, Ponderings, HERE.

February 7, 2015

Ode on Seeing Past

by lisa st john

Apple1

Thank you magnesium chloride and the smart people who figured out that you melt ice. I was going to title this blog something lame like, “The next person who tells me they love winter is going to get this hammer I am using to pick ice off of my roof right smack in the eye” but then I thought about thanking science instead.

Thank you engineers, for putting cup-holders on strollers. Thank you chemists, for making vitamins gummy.

Thank you Alan Turing. Thank you Grace Hopper. Thank you Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

Scientists are the most underrated artists. Art is about taking risks and sharing and seeing past the obvious. Sounds a lot like science to me.

So instead of blaming snow (I could always move if I was determined enough. There are plenty of lovely places to live that are snow and ice free) I will praise science and art.

And all you neo-luddites out there need to behave and back off with your holier than thou sneers while we are using our gorgeous technology. While you look down on me as I stand in line at the grocery store, thumbs flying, the invisible cartoon bubble above my head says, “SHUT UP YOUR EYES. I am writing A NOVEL on my iPHONE, OKAY?” Science. Art.

I could be donating to save elephants from circuses on crowdrise or sponsoring upcoming musicians on bandcamp (shout out to Mad Satta here). No. Science and technology are not the bad guys. They are revolutionizing Art as we know it.

How beautiful is the Millennial Generation (also known as Generation Y, but that’s too derivative)? The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation identifies them as, “the connected, diverse collaborator, shaped by 9/11, texting, and the recession.” They have given us crowd-sourcing; they ARE social media. And social critters they are. They blend the real and virtual worlds with an ease that is awe-inspiring to us digital immigrants.

As Amanda Palmer says in her brave memoir The Art of Asking, “…working artists and their supportive audiences are two necessary parts in a complex ecosystem.” No judging the future, please. We just need to see … past.

arctic-fox-hunting

August 8, 2014

Silly Answers to Important Questions and Important Questions to Silly Answers: Part One

by lisa st john

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen all at once.” Einstein

dali

Where does the time go?” A simple idiom, but the answer is never simple.

It goes into the past.”

Isn’t the past part of time?”

Yes, but… .”

If we want to understand the ontology of time (if such a thing exists) philosophers fall short and science fiction wins. How many online discussions of the movie Lucy are happening right now?

Language is not immune to time either. Prose falls short and poetry wins. Apparently, both the words “space” and “moment” are synonyms for time. A moment of space, please, while I gather my thoughts.

Knowing is easier than being.

I know, for example, that it has been 625 days (also known as 900,000 minutes) since Kent died. Apparently, time passes. That does not make it any easier to BE in the so-called present. Sorry. Wish I could say it gets easier. It doesn’t. It just gets…just gets on being.

I know, getting back to Lucy, that the human brain uses far more than 10% of its capacity, despite the premise of the film. But science-fiction raises great questions. It is the perfect medium for critical thinking. In addition to suppositional thinking, (“Wow. IF we only use 10%…”) people should leave the movie also wondering, “Wow. What does the REAL science say about brain theory?” The art asks the question. How we answer it is another thing altogether.

“In the movie Lucy, the entire assumption that humans only use 10 percent of the brain is misleading. The correction is this fact: it’s not that we use only 10 percent of our brains, rather it’s that we only understand about 10 percent of how it functions.” Olympia LePoint (She really is a rocket scientist. How cool is THAT?)

There is a huge distinction between “using” and “understanding.”

“Another mystery hidden within our crinkled cortices is that out of all the brain’s cells, only 10 percent are neurons; the other 90 percent are glial cells, which encapsulate and support neurons, but whose function remains largely unknown.” Boyd, Scientific American

There is also a huge distinction between “mystery” and “unknown.” The first connotes secrecy, the second implies an inevitable answer. It’s “unknown” for now.

But the character of Lucy knows. She says something along the lines of, “Time is the only true unit of measure, it gives proof to the existence of matter, without time, we don’t exist.”

Without time we don’t exist.” I need to wrap my brain around that idea. Is it because at the atomic level there is only frequency and no “time”? But we put a bunch of atoms together and we get time because we can measure decay? So…”we” don’t exist at the sub-atomic level, but the stuff that makes us (also known as matter) does. Okay. Back to time.

The time it takes for weeds to grow in the flower bed is directly proportionate to the time it takes to weed the other flower bed.

The real Lucy is over three million years old.

I want to believe that the anecdote of how the scientific Lucy got her name is true.

The time I spend reading on the beach is much shorter than the time I spend in meetings, regardless of the fact that they are both measured by, let’s say, 60 minutes.

We can measure by how many treatments are left or by days of sobriety. We can measure by the arrival of hummingbirds or the departure of the sun over the horizon.

We measure by moments. The poets know this.

 

You’ve asked me what the lobster is weaving there with
his golden feet?
I reply, the ocean knows this.
You say, what is the ascidia waiting for in its transparent
bell? What is it waiting for?
I tell you it is waiting for time, like you.” Pablo Neruda “Enigmas

July 1, 2014

No Time for Advertisements

by lisa st john

daisy

 

Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It’s abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we’ll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you?”

Samuel Beckett Waiting for Godot

 

Dear Reader (Wait. Weird how Jane Austen that sounded.):

I promise to never put floating hypertext ads on my blog. If you click on one of my links it’s because, like me, you are interested in tangents and are willing to play in the world of hypertext reading theory.

Delany and Landow define hypertext as, “the use of the computer to transcend the linear, bounded and fixed qualities of the traditional written text.” Wow. I like the hyperbole of “transcending” anything linear. Anyway…

 

Time. How to act for the next few weeks when my world is not measured by the clock? I look at the LED and 8:30 seems a reasonable time to get up. I switch the coffee maker from Auto-On to Brew. She’ll stay that way for awhile. I’ll check the weather. Humid. Yeah, well, it is June in upstate New York. Sun and clouds. Really? They are both going to be up there today. Okay. In Arizona, I rarely checked the weather. How many synonyms are there for hot, really hot, and treacherously hot?

 

So. I will check my email. Yawn. I could pay some bills. Yuck. The computer tells me it is 8:56, but the numbers have lost their meaning.

 

I gave the kids a ten minute warning.”

But…”

It’s okay. They have no idea how long ten minutes is. It could be five minutes or half an hour.”

 

Ten minutes waiting for a bus in the rain is a long ten minutes. Ten minutes before the betting windows close is a just-enough ten minutes. Ten minutes of lounging in the sand watching the waves is far too short.

 

But if Einstein is right, why can’t I play with time dilation; why can’t I choose to see the future rather than the past?

 

Kindergarteners learn to “tell” time (much too early in my humble opinion). The only way to explain time to my son when he was five was to tell him that time wasn’t real. Then he got it. “Philosophers like McTaggart who claim that time is unreal are aware of the seemingly paradoxical nature of their claim. They generally take the line that all appearances suggesting that there is a temporal order to things are somehow illusory.” What’s wrong with a little paradox?

 

Composer Jonathan Berger claims that music can, “hijack our perception of time.” Schubert knew, before science did, that time is based on perception. The logical conclusion here is that artists like Schubert can manipulate time. So what time is it?

 

Wait. There’s a cat, a hammock, and a book. That’s three. The time is three today.

 

Always in motion is the future.”

Yoda, Star Wars Episode V:The Empire Strikes Back

 

 

 

 

January 20, 2014

Mysteries

by lisa st john

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all

true art and science. –Albert Einstein

The massage therapist has little hands coming out of the wall on which to hang clothes. There is a ceramic hand—palm up—on her desk where she keeps her business cards. There is a smoldering hand holding incense and a pair of hands holding up books. I am so grateful that urologists and gynecologists do not decorate their offices this way. I don’t know if I want to hang my bra on a penis or take a business card out of a vagina. Odd the things that make up functional art.

Mystery machine cartoon version

And are artful functions the same thing? How long did it take us to put wheels on coolers or cup holders on strollers? A mystery.

Art and science, fact and fiction, truth and belief. These dichotomies keep me up at night1.

Other functional mysteries raise the following questions: Why don’t all winter cars come with retractable plows? We use liquid helium (at a temperature of NEGATIVE 452.4 Fahrenheit) to cool the superconductivity of a magnetic field in order to see inside the brain, but we haven’t figured out how to see if I have cervical cancer other than a (frighteningly medieval) speculum?

Sad mysteries include the fact (yes, a mystery can also be a fact—hence my confused brain activity) that over 60% of African elephants were slaughtered from poaching between 2002 and 2011 and China accounts for nearly half of that population killed each year. Apparently, however, we need to strengthen our economic relations with them.

A true mystery is why even after all the scientific proof says that homeopathy is a scam, the United States alone spends 34 BILLION dollars on alternative medicine. Tim Minchin’s lovely, animated diatribe on this subject is certainly worth watching.

An exciting mystery is that both light and matter can be either (OR BOTH) waves or particles. WTF squared, that’s what I think about that.

Some Hollywood mysteries that never occur in real life (yet I am fond of) are listed below.

I want:
… an envelope delivered to my table at an outdoor cafe that has a ringing cell phone inside of it.
… to get stuck in an elevator for hours at a time alone with some hottie.

to jump through a large glass window and roll out onto the sidewalk.

to beat the shit out of someone trying to attack me (preferably kicking a weapon out of his hands in the process).

And finally, should we not leave the artistic mystery of the creative process alone and just let it (like the poem it produces) “not mean, but be?” More on ars poetica and sifting through the currently trendy quantification of artistic genius another time.

p.s.: Is it any wonder that Scooby-Doo was my favorite cartoon? It was always the guy in a mask–real monsters don’t exist.

1Not literally; I sleep like a rock thanks to the miracle of chemistry. These ideas do, however, keep my mind alive at inopportune times.

January 3, 2014

Wonder

by lisa st john

pawsWonder: n.

1.a. One that arouses awe, astonishment, surprise, or admiration; a marvel: “The decision of one age or country is a wonder to another” (John Stuart Mill).b. The emotion aroused by something awe-inspiring, astounding, or marvelous: gazed with wonder at the northern lights. 2. An event inexplicable by the laws of nature; a miracle. 3. A feeling of puzzlement or doubt. 4. often Wonder A monumental human creation regarded with awe, especially one of seven monuments of the ancient world that appeared on various lists of late antiquity.

“How wonderless your life must be,” he said.

Really? Wonderless isn’t even a word, although I don’t mind the occasional neologism. Like Abby says, “All words are made up words.” Just because I do not believe in conspiracy theories or alien crop circles—and instead believe in the gullibility of human beings—does not mean I live without wonder.

I find wonder in the chemistry of snowflakes. I find wonder in the fact that stars are kept together by their own gravity.

Just because I know homeopathy is a hoax doesn’t mean I do not acknowledge that most medicine originates with plants. Just because I know astrology is a load of crap doesn’t mean that I am not in awe of the fact that our little galaxy is but one in billions of galaxies.

There is peace in scientific fact. There is beauty in knowledge.

I get what Whitman was saying in the Learn’d Astronomer but in this fascinating century there is also mystery in the truth.

 Wondrous Truth List #1 (correspondent, coherent, pragmatic—up for debate)

-There is no color without light.

-Humans are the only animals who cry for emotional reasons.

-The desert blooms.

-We still listen to, and play (see James Rhodes ) the music Rachmaninov wrote when he was a teenager over 100 years ago.

Pi as far as we know, is still infinite.

-There are more than 55,000 art museums in the world.

-The singularity is an actual possibility.

-We are still discovering new creatures.

Love exists.

-Poetry continues.

rose

March 3, 2011

Unicorns

by lisa st john

“Oh lord, wontcha buy me a Mercedes Benz, my friends all drive horses, I mu–”
Wait…. That’s not right.

There are so many things in the world that are not right. Scumbags tricking gullible people into psychic readings, psychos spreading the word about how the Holocaust never happened (or wasn’t as bad as all that); even mainstream chain pharmacies are selling homeopathic “drugs”! I’m mortified by a lack of intelligence—embarrassed by rampant credulity.

With brilliant minds like Michael Shermer and James Randi out there, why is the general public so ignorant?! Skeptic Magazine is easily accessible. Why don’t more people read it? Because we want to believe in stupid stuff, that’s why. We aren’t as smart as we think we are. Look how long it took us to invent wheels for coolers! Jeesh. Sometimes I think George Carlin was right when he said that, “We like to think we’ve evolved and advanced because we can build a computer, fly an airplane, travel underwater, we can write a sonnet, paint a painting, compose an opera. But you know something? We’re barely out of the jungle on this planet. Barely out of the fucking jungle. What we are, is semi-civilized beasts, with baseball caps and automatic weapons.”

Belief and faith and knowledge and truth are no more synonymous than beagles and toads. By the way, why are the words fur and hair synonymous? I pet my cat’s fur. I don’t pet his hair. That sounds weird. But I get cat hair on my clothes. I don’t get cat fur on my clothes. An article in Scientific American explains that there is no difference between fur and hair. Humph. Not satisfied. Oh, I know. I’ll Google fur versus hair and see what happens. There we go! A non-peer reviewed crap website that proves me right! Fur IS different than hair. Guess I will “believe” that one.

Go ahead and believe whatever you want. Just don’t go spewing it as knowledge. Interpret the world as you see fit, but don’t try and tell me that Matthew Arnold’s famous poem “Dover Beach” is about unicorns. IT’S NOT! And no. Poetry is not about “whatever you want it to be about.” While there is no sacred hidden meaning available only in the teacher’s edition of some archaic textbook, there are correct and incorrect interpretations. This post is turning into Part One. See you soon for Part Two.

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