THE COMMON OBSERVER UNCOMMON OBSERVATIONS

The Happiness Index

Bhutan has troubles, but maybe it also has good intentions. It is trying to build itself with happiness before profit. Gretchen Legler over at Orion Magazine writes,

Westerners, in their dawning realization that money can’t buy happiness, often misinterpret [Gross National Happiness] GNH, holding out hope that Bhutan alone knows one last magic trick that will rescue us all from the dystopia of late capitalism. But GNH is more complex than that, and Bhutan is more than a Himalayan Disneyland. GNH is part of Bhutan’s plan for negotiating the wilderness of modernization without losing its soul. Every schoolchild, public policymaker, teacher, citizen, and civil servant has been asked to help create a society based on the four pillars of GNH: sustainable and equitable economic development, conservation of the environment, preservation and promotion of culture, and good governance.

 

Another thing that confuses Westerners, says Nyingtob Pema Norbu, a GNH Commission planning officer, is the very word “happy.” In Bhutan, happiness is not a perfect life softly cocooned in pillows of cleanliness, security, and abundance. “I like to start by translating what happiness means in our language,” he says. “Ghakey—the first syllable, gha, is a word that you can use when you say you like something, when you say you love someone; it can also be used to describe a state of elation. The second syllable, key, means peace. When we refer to happiness, we are talking about harmony, striking a balance, so you’re not just focusing on individual emotion but the enabling conditions that will facilitate an individual pursuit of happiness.”

Read the whole thing over at Orion Magazine…

A Dream of Trees

A Dream of Trees
by Mary Oliver

There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees,
A quiet house, some green and modest acres
A little way from every troubling town,
A little way from factories, schools, laments.
I would have time, I thought, and time to spare,
With only streams and birds for company,
To build out of my life a few wild stanzas.
And then it came to me, that so was death,
A little way away from everywhere.

There is a thing in me still dreams of trees.
But let it go. Homesick for moderation,
Half the world’s artists shrink or fall away.
If any find solution, let him tell it.
Meanwhile I bend my heart toward lamentation
Where, as the times implore our true involvement,
The blades of every crisis point the way.

I would it were not so, but so it is.
Who ever made music of a mild day?

PBS Newshour on Dark Matter

Dark matter in the news check it out.

Sunday Haiku

the full moon unnoticed
passes the entire sky
when you blink
 

the small sea reflects
rays of full moonlight
a whale surfaces
 

all who share the earth
face the threat of extinction
from entropy’s trap

Haiku contributed from Nite Rote.

Sunday Haiku

the new moon spits

an intention for the new year

onto a hot jade stone

 

hard to unravel

yet much more difficult to weave

journey into fog
 

a smoke halo hangs

utterly bare on winter

up from our embers

Haiku contributed from Nite Rote.

Ancients

Ancients: a time-lapse film of sunset to sunrise in the Atacama desert.

Length, Height, and Breadth

Image by flickr user martinak15Imagine that reality is as strange as string theory predicts. String theory calls for ten perhaps eleven space-time dimensions where strings and membranes vibrate to generate the particles and ultimately all emergent phenomena of the natural world. The dynamics of such a universe quickly escapes our ability to describe it with ordinary language or to conceive of it at all. A theory that successfully predicts the behavior of the universe is good, but a theory that precisely describes nature while it simultaneously inspires our imaginations would be best. String theory wallows in that cross roads of imagination and science such that if you don’t know what string theory is yet you aren’t just missing science you are missing critical modern culture.

 

Issues of interpretation are not uncommon in science. “People slowly accustomed themselves to the idea that that the physical states of space itself were the final reality” Einstein said. He was commenting on the fundamental principle of his theory of general relativity wherein the distribution of energy and matter determines the geometry of space time. Einstein spoke to the public with precise words. Here he is stating that the reality we experience is given by space-time itself. He is also suggesting a larger kind of scientific realism where there is an objective world independent of our capacity to know it. In this view reality is a purely physical manifestation of the natural laws of physics. Yet, the underlying dynamics of nature are not directly accessible to human perception, as Einstein said it, “imagination is everything.”

 

“Should overwhelming evidence gathered using a diversity of methods confirm the existence of a phenomenon in the world, it ought to be taken to be objectively real; for example, that the universe consists of three spatial dimensions: length, height, and breadth” states Sean Miller in his 2013 book Strung Together. The existence of extra dimensions is prescribed by the formalism of string theory (in M-theory there are ten dimensions of space and one of time). This claim contradicts current theories. String theory will attain the status of scientific knowledge only if predictions like this can be validated. String theory makes such sweeping claims about our universe that it is a so called theory of everything. Though regardless of whether or not string theory is strictly correct our imaginative understanding of what it means may continue to progress.

I wrote this piece for 3 Quarks Daily where I am a regular Monday contributor. Read the rest of how string theory and culture intersect with imagination…

The Voyagers

Voyager record, credit nasaIn 1977 NASA launched the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft on a journey through our solar system and beyond. These space craft carried with them golden records, literally records coated in gold, with recordings of clues to human culture.

“The launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet”

said Carl Sagan of the mission. The Voyagers is a short film from Aeon Film that explores love, science, and the most distant man made objects from Earth. It is hard to explain, but it is all tied together beautifully. I wasn’t able to embed the video, but do check it out here…

The Art on the Moon

There is one piece of art on the moon:

Fallen Astronaut sculpture by  Hoeydonck and the commemorative plaque left on the moon in memory of 14 fallen astronauts and cosmonauts. Image credit NASAOne crisp March morning in 1969, artist Paul van Hoeydonck was visiting his Manhattan gallery when he stumbled into the middle of a startling conversation. Louise Tolliver Deutschman, the gallery’s director, was making an energetic pitch to Dick Waddell, the owner. “Why don’t we put a sculpture of Paul’s on the moon,” she insisted. Before Waddell could reply, van Hoeydonck inserted himself into the exchange: “Are you completely nuts? How would we even do it?”

Deutschman stood her ground. “I don’t know,” she replied, “but I’ll figure out a way.”

Read more about the sculpture on the moon…

Sunday Haiku

are the crows upset

with us because we forgot

the sky was theirs first
 

the task of the tides

is to ebb and wax to best

discover the shores
 

time flies is a crow

in resurgence against tides

of the universe

Haiku contributed from Nite Rote.