Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


So Long as They Fall in Love

Hoping the author doesn't mind, I'd like to share a few snippets of poems from the collection The Last Cigarette on Earth by Benjamin Alire Saenz. They are all better in context.

(The non-text photographs are all unaltered and unfiltered; it started with a few accidental shots taken as I was setting the camera down, then repeating the process until I had enough to complete the post.)

Where is all your caring? All your compassion? In the large
Cracks and crevices between the caring and not caring--
That's where you live. That's your permanent address.

What ever happened to the dark?
He walks into the kitchen, the light on the clock
of Mr. Coffee assaulting him. Night has become nothing
more than a metaphor. There is no real darkness--save
the darkness of the heart. Maybe that's darkness
enough. Joseph Conrad got it right.

A student writes to him and asks: you know about anger.
You conjure that so well. Is there any happiness? Or joy?

How can he find his innocence again?
How can he conjure joy in such a world as this?

You want to repent of all your stupidities. You have said this to
yourself before. You start listing your stupidities. You stop yourself.
You have made this list before.

I do not
understand what is meant by living but I am beginning to believe
that it is related to the word dying. Maybe I'll do some of that today.
A little dying never killed anyone. Dying is fine--but dead?--well,
that's another thing altogether. Maybe today, I'll begin to learn
to spell Salvation--and learn too that it isn't something that's
supposed to happen after I'm dead.

Keep telling yourself this: my life is as lovely as the morning dew.
There's a thought. Or tell yourself this: Shit! I have wasted
Most of my life hating myself. Thoughts that cross the mind
Have a logic all their own. Let's not bring logic into this.

Today, I am going to walk around
with my camera in my hand. I dreamed barbed wire and birds.
I dreamed a sky full of rainclouds. I am going in search
of my dreams. I am again in search of that perfect moment.
How pedestrian. I am as common as everyone else. Rejoice!
Maybe the perfect moment is already alive somewhere inside me.
Maybe I am full of light. Maybe I am full of darkness. I don't care
about the pain. I don't care what my eyes fall in love with--
So long as they fall in love.

He listened to the news on the
radio. Israel was bombing the hell out of Gaza. Bombs into Israel.
Bombs into Gaza. He is fucking sick of all the killing. He doesn't
give a damn anymore whose God anyone believes in. Wouldn't it be
lovely to worship human beings? Then there would be no reason
to kill, to punish, to torture, no reason to make another woman,
another man suffer a world without tenderness.

And finally this: I see you walking

down a road. I am walking on the same road.
I will look for you.
I will look for you. God
has no face but yours. God
has no face but mine.


Of Networks, Neural and Otherwise

We feel safer within the literalness, control, and certainty of the left brain, far more than in the unquantifiable and mysterious nature the right brain connects us to.

“Prognosticatory magic is slippery stuff,” Miss Ellicott went on. “It is difficult to see the Will-Be, and even the Ago can be wavery and uncertain.”

Chantel was surprised by this, as she had always assumed that once something happened, it was done and was known. Miss Ellicott now told them this was not the case. It all came down to missing information, lost perspectives, and points of view.

Points of view are funny things.

The Right Brain Develops First ~ Why Play is the Foundation for Academic Learning

Did you know that the right brain develops first? It does so by the time children are 3-4 years of age. The left brain, on the other hand, doesn’t fully come online until children are approximately seven years old; hence the first seven years being recognized as such a critical period in child development.

The left brain’s functionality is one of language, numeracy, literacy, analysis and time. It is the logical, calculating, planning, busy-bee part of us that keeps us anchored in the pragmatic world, and in past and future. The right brain, on the other hand, is responsible for empathy, intuition, imagination and creativity. It is where we wonder, dream, connect and come alive. Through the right brain we dwell in the space of no-time, in being absolutely present. While the left brain is more interested in outcomes or product, the right brain cares much more about process—the journey is what matters, not the destination.

But there is one more vital piece to understand: The right brain connects us to our boundless sense of being. Being is primary; hence the right brain developing first; hence, human being, not human doing. The left brain is far more interested in doing. Young right-brain dominant children, by contrast, are quite content being.

Understanding this we can better appreciate why play is so important in child learning and development, and why we need to be extra careful with the amount and timing of academic agendas created for children; with how much we emphasize product—what kids have accomplished at school—versus process—who they are becoming and what they feel in their explorations. . . .

The push for academia on children is a symptom of a society that is left brain dominant, or forgetful of the wonderful playground that is the right brain. It’s an indicator that we feel safer within the literalness, control and certainty of the left brain, far more than in the unquantifiable and mysterious nature the right brain connects us to.

A Biologist Believes That Trees Speak a Language We Can Learn

They speak constantly, even if quietly, communicating above- and underground using sound, scents, signals, and vibes. They’re naturally networking, connected with everything that exists, including you.

Biologists, ecologists, foresters, and naturalists increasingly argue that trees speak, and that humans can learn to hear this language.

Many people struggle with this concept because they can’t perceive that trees are interconnected, argues biologist George David Haskell in his 2017 book The Songs of Trees. Connection in a network, Haskell says, necessitates communication and breeds languages; understanding that nature is a network is the first step in hearing trees talk. . . .

Trees exchange chemicals with fungus, and send seeds—essentially information packets—with wind, birds, bats, and other visitors for delivery around the world. Simard specializes in the underground relationships of trees. Her research shows that below the earth are vast networks of roots working with fungi to move water, carbon, and nutrients among trees of all species. These complex, symbiotic networks mimic human neural and social networks. They even have mother trees at various centers, managing information flow, and the interconnectedness helps a slew of live things fight disease and survive together.

Simard argues that this exchange is communication, albeit in a language alien to us. And there’s a lesson to be learned from how forests relate, she says. There’s a lot of cooperation, rather than just competition among and between species as was previously believed.

New Report on Emerging AI Risks Paints a Grim Future

A new report authored by over two-dozen experts on the implications of emerging technologies is sounding the alarm bells on the ways artificial intelligence could enable new forms of cybercrime, physical attacks, and political disruption over the next five to ten years. . . .

In the report, the authors detail some of the ways AI could make things generally unpleasant in the next few years, focusing on three security domains of note—the digital, physical, and political arenas—and how the malicious use of AI could upset each of these.

“It is often the case that AI systems don’t merely reach human levels of performance but significantly surpass it,” said Miles Brundage, a Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute and a co-author of the report, in a statement. “It is troubling, but necessary, to consider the implications of superhuman hacking, surveillance, persuasion, and physical target identification, as well as AI capabilities that are subhuman but nevertheless much more scalable than human labour.”

Indeed, the big takeaway of the report is that AI is now on the cusp of being a tremendously negative disruptive force as rival states, criminals, and terrorists use the scale and efficiency of AI to launch finely-targeted and highly efficient attacks.

Hmm. Play. Cooperation natural communities. Hostile Artificial Intelligences. Interesting perspectives.


How Do You Describe Reading?

I rather love the above "quote," randomly created by an AI that generally skews badly its mission of coming up with inspirational sayings. In its off-kilter way, it echoes the thoughts of many writers and readers from many eras. A good sampling of them follow, interspersed with some random recent photos of mine.

For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.
― John Milton, Areopagitica

What a blessing it is to love books as I love them;- to be able to converse with the dead, and to live amidst the unreal!

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.

The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.
― Alan Bennett, The History Boys

A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called "leaves") imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time ― proof that humans can work magic.

But the thing is that I’m in love with Rafael’s story. I think I understand when Adam says that all our stories are different but in some ways our stories are all the same. I never really got that. But when I start to read Rafael’s journal, it’s as if I can see myself. It’s better than a mirror.
― Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Last Night I Sang to the Monster

We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel . . . is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.

I spent my life folded between the pages of books. In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.
― Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

Reading is like thinking, like praying, like talking to a friend, like expressing your ideas, like listening to other people's ideas, like listening to music, like looking at the view, like taking a walk on the beach.
― Roberto Bolaño, 2666

Every work of art is one half of a secret handshake, a challenge that seeks the password, a heliograph flashed from a tower window, an act of hopeless optimism in the service of bottomless longing. Every great record or novel or comic book convenes the first meeting of a fan club whose membership stands forever at one but which maintains chapters in every city -- in every cranium -- in the world. Art, like fandom, asserts the possibility of fellowship in a world built entirely from the materials of solitude. The novelist, the cartoonist, the songwriter, knows the gesture is doomed from the beginning but makes it anyway, flashes his or her bit of mirror, not on the chance that the signal will be seen or understood but as if such a chance existed.
― Michael Chabon, Manhood for Amateurs

Libraries are sanctuaries from the world and command centers into it . . . They are, ideally, places where nothing happens and where everything that has happened is stored up to be remembered and relived, the place where the world is folded up into boxes of paper. Every book is a door that opens onto another world . . . and a library is a Milky Way of worlds. . . . all imaginative, engrossing books are landscapes into which readers vanish.
― Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

Books don't have anything in them about the present, only the past and the future. This is one of the biggest defects of books. Someone should invent a book that tells you what's happening at this moment, as you read. It must be harder to write that sort of book than the futuristic ones that predict the future. That's why they don't exist. And that's why I have to go and investigate reality.
― Juan Pablo Villalobos,  Down the Rabbit Hole

Are these terms as synonymous as the game Cineplexity implies?


Good News, Bad News

Gently Extracted from the Headlines


  • "Far from being better informed, heavy newswatchers can become miscalibrated . . . and sometimes they part company with reality altogether."

  • "Although there is no evidence that members of individualist cultures are more altruistic overall, they appear to be more altruistic, on average, toward strangers. Although growing prosperity and individualism may bring some societal costs, an inevitable increase in selfishness does not seem to be among them."

  • "The strategy of growing the economy — basically trying to create new wealth — to boost the well-being of their underprivileged citizens is ineffective. A much better approach, argues O'Neill, would be to focus on redistributing their existing wealth more equitably."

  • "Striving to be less wrong — rather than more right — could be a beneficial way to construe our aims across a variety of contexts, whether it's a marital dispute or a business decision. . . . if I begin from the assumption that I'm fallible and striving to be less wrong, a challenge may not feel so threatening."
Quoted from the articles below in the order they are shared.

From The Guardian:
The media exaggerates negative news. This distortion has consequences

Whether or not the world really is getting worse, the nature of news will interact with the nature of cognition to make us think that it is.

News is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen. We never see a journalist saying to the camera, “I’m reporting live from a country where a war has not broken out”— or a city that has not been bombed, or a school that has not been shot up. . . .

The nature of news is likely to distort people’s view of the world because of a mental bug that the psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman called the Availability heuristic: people estimate the probability of an event or the frequency of a kind of thing by the ease with which instances come to mind. In many walks of life this is a serviceable rule of thumb. But whenever a memory turns up high in the result list of the mind’s search engine for reasons other than frequency—because it is recent, vivid, gory, distinctive, or upsetting—people will overestimate how likely it is in the world. . . .

The consequences of negative news are themselves negative. Far from being better informed, heavy newswatchers can become miscalibrated. They worry more about crime, even when rates are falling, and sometimes they part company with reality altogether . . .

Consumers of negative news, not surprisingly, become glum: a recent literature review cited “misperception of risk, anxiety, lower mood levels, learned helplessness, contempt and hostility towards others, desensitization, and in some cases, ... complete avoidance of the news.” . . .

From NPR:
Could A More Individualistic World Also Be A More Altruistic One?

Wealth, and the individualism that follows, are often conflated with selfishness. This is, in part, because individualism's inverse — collectivism — emphasizes close social ties and an interconnected rather than independent view of the self.

But equating individualism, and the wealth that promotes it, with selfishness may be a mistake. As evidenced, the world's wealthiest and most individualistic countries also happen to be some of the most altruistic. . . .

The key to understanding the link between individualism and generosity may be that the World Giving Index measures generosity for strangers. Members of collectivist cultures do very much value generosity and giving — but primarily toward family and members of other close-knit groups. . . . A focus on group bonds requires that members of collectivist cultures draw distinctions between group members whose welfare, goals, and identities are deeply interdependent — and everyone else. And less value is placed on the welfare of everyone else. . . .

In individualist cultures, higher relational mobility means that anyone unfamiliar could "one day become a friend," as cultural psychologist Yulia Chentsova-Dutton, a colleague of mine at Georgetown, put it to me. Among collectivist cultures, it is more likely to be assumed that a stranger will stay a stranger.

These psychological phenomena may help to explain why, although there is no evidence that members of individualist cultures are more altruistic overall, they appear to be more altruistic, on average, toward strangers. Although growing prosperity and individualism may bring some societal costs, an inevitable increase in selfishness does not seem to be among them.

Also from NPR:
If We Bring The Good Life To All, Will We Destroy The Planet?

Our blog often features stories about efforts to improve life for this planet's 7 billion inhabitants: how to make sure everyone has access to clean water and power, medical care to stay healthy, enough income to feed their kids, education for the children so they can fulfill their potential.

But a new study in the journal Nature Sustainability poses a question not often considered: If we were to succeed in providing all this, what would be the cost to the environment? . . .

Says O'Neill, "generally the countries that do well on the social indicators do so by consuming resources at a level that could not be extended to all people on the planet." These include Germany, the Netherlands and Austria. "And the countries that do well on the environmental indicators — in other words, that are consuming resources at a sustainable level — don't do well on the social indicators." Examples include Malawi, Yemen and the Philippines.

There are also five countries that do damage above all seven of the environmental boundaries even as they fail to achieve all 11 social indicators. This includes the United States, which misses the mark when it comes to income equality and employment. . . .

Only one country comes even close to delivering the good life in a sustainable way: Vietnam . . .

"And what we find is that it follows a curve of diminishing returns — as you use more resources you get less social bang for your buck," says O'Neill. "So there's a turning point after which additional resource use contributes very little to social performance." Wealthy industrialized nations such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada have reached that point, says O'Neill. "As we increase our resource use, we get almost no increase in human well-being from that."

And this means for these countries the strategy of growing the economy — basically trying to create new wealth — to boost the well-being of their underprivileged citizens is ineffective. A much better approach, argues O'Neill, would be to focus on redistributing their existing wealth more equitably.

And NPR also gets the final word:
A New Goal: Aim To Be Less Wrong

At a conference last week, I received an interesting piece of advice:

"Assume you are wrong."

The advice came from Brian Nosek, a fellow psychology professor and the executive director of the Center for Open Science. Nosek wasn't objecting to any particular claim I'd made — he was offering a strategy for pursuing better science, and for encouraging others to do the same. . . .

Assuming you are right might be a motivating force, sustaining the enormous effort that conducting scientific work requires. But it also makes it easy to construe criticisms as personal attacks, and for scientific arguments to devolve into personal battles. Beginning, instead, from the assumption you are wrong, a criticism is easier to construe as a helpful pointer, a constructive suggestion for how to be less wrong — a goal that your critic presumably shares. . . .

I like Nosek's suggestion because it builds in epistemic humility ("there are things I do not know!") along with a sense that we can do better ("there are things I do not know yet!"). It also builds in a sense of community — we're all in the same boat when it comes to falling short of getting things right. Perhaps the focus on a shared goal — our goal as scientists and humans of being less wrong — can help compensate for any harms in scientific motivation or communication.

I also like Nosek's advice because it isn't restricted to science. Striving to be less wrong — rather than more right — could be a beneficial way to construe our aims across a variety of contexts, whether it's a marital dispute or a business decision. I may be wrong about who did the dishes last night, or about which stock is the best investment; if I begin from the assumption that I'm fallible and striving to be less wrong, a challenge may not feel so threatening.


Worry Wards Against Evil

It's not just me!

But worrying was supposed to keep bad things from happening--that was the entire point of worrying. You said to yourself, I hope I don't X, and you didn't, see? Because you worried about it.

When I was young and afraid of imaginary things in the dark, I made a game of imagining all the ways those monsters might catch me unawares and stealthily snatch me. Because every scenario I imagined was immediately eliminated from the catalog of possibilities. I couldn't be caught unawares in that situation once it entered my realm of awareness. So the more ways of being seized I could conceive, the safer I'd be. The worry was the safeguard.

I thought I was the only one who experienced worry like this, then I ran across the passage above in Laura Ruby's book The Shadow Cipher. I know plenty of worriers and people with anxiety, but generally they are less happy because of it and this is the first time I've seen worrying so well described as a type of reassurance. It wards us against evil. At the very least, catastrophizing allows us less spontaneous, deliberate types to create back-up plans in advance for things not going as we expect; it's a way of being more adaptive.


I Am an Oracle of Cosmic Mysteries

Another silly thing popped up on my Facebook feed, and I really like what this one calls me: an Oracle of Cosmic Mysteries. As I wrote there, it pretty much guarantees I'll never have to actually make sense, so long as I tantalizingly hint at it. Kind of like cryptic song lyrics or poetry. And, more seriously, while I love pondering cosmic-scale questions, I believe it is essential that we get comfortable with not knowing. Accept most answers will always remain mysteries. As with oracles, sometimes our best explanations will always be ambiguous and obscure. And I like the way it implies I might be providing some kind of wisdom, as that's what I'm seeking.

With that thought in mind, I will follow with a plethora of ambiguous and obscure material. The poems are my favorite selections from a recent read, Joy: 100 Poems by Christian Wiman. The quotes are randomly generated by an AI oracle. The photos are mine. And a few other bits of randomness will mix their way in.

For the first poem, I'll share one that's pretty widely known and was too long to capture with a photo, so you'll have to follow the link: Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front by Wendell Berry. It nicely espouses being random and somewhat mysterious. A few favorite lines:
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute.
 . . .
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
 . . .
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Speaking of orange, this one's peel provided an island with a lonely tree.

Remember this: every man has to find out for himself in what particular fashion he can be saved. I believe that. You just have to find out what it is you're looking for.
― Marcus Sedgwick, Saint Death

This one spoke to me so much I combined it with one of my photos.

I love the invented word in this bit of randomness from InspiroBot. It's a rather perfect word for the cynical romantic. I'm not a pessimist; I'm a pessimystic.

A reminder for the pessimystics: If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction, we lessen the importance of their deprivation. We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.

By Jack Gilbert

Everyone is guilty of something, and everyone still harbors a memory of childhood innocence, no matter how many layers of life wrap around it. Humanity is innocent; humanity is guilty, and both states are undeniably true.
― Neal Shusterman, Scythe

So we live in mystery. I'm not unsatisfied with that. I don't have to find a god or not a god.

Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, Signal to Noise

Human nature is both predictable and mysterious; prone to great and sudden advances, yet still mired in despicable self-interest.
― Neal Shusterman, Scythe

Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

It is, as with all creation, matter impregnated with mind.

The blurriness of joy and the precision of pain--I want to describe, with a sharp pain's precision, happiness and blurry joy. I learned to speak among the pains.

And now a wave of semi-nonsensical AI wisdom. Don't give up, though, for a bit more other follows that.

This article interests me as a librarian and a reader, of course, and as someone intrigued by the topic of memory. Even more pertinent, it explains the reason for the existence of this blog. The majority of my posts, like this one, share parts of things I've read or otherwise consumed. Writing the posts helps me revisit and retain the material, plus gives me an external memory source when I have trouble recalling directly.
Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read

Presumably, memory has always been like this. But Jared Horvath, a research fellow at the University of Melbourne, says that the way people now consume information and entertainment has changed what type of memory we value—and it’s not the kind that helps you hold onto the plot of a movie you saw six months ago.

In the internet age, recall memory—the ability to spontaneously call information up in your mind—has become less necessary. It’s still good for bar trivia, or remembering your to-do list, but largely, Horvath says, what’s called recognition memory is more important. "So long as you know where that information is at and how to access it, then you don’t really need to recall it," he says.

Research has shown that the internet functions as a sort of externalized memory. "When people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself," as one study puts it. . . .

If you want to remember the things you watch and read, space them out. I used to get irritated in school when an English-class syllabus would have us read only three chapters a week, but there was a good reason for that. Memories get reinforced the more you recall them, Horvath says. If you read a book all in one stretch—on an airplane, say—you’re just holding the story in your working memory that whole time. "You’re never actually reaccessing it," he says.

Sana says that often when we read, there’s a false "feeling of fluency." The information is flowing in, we’re understanding it, it seems like it is smoothly collating itself into a binder to be slotted onto the shelves of our brains. "But it actually doesn’t stick unless you put effort into it and concentrate and engage in certain strategies that will help you remember."
One final, closing thought: Realize that you are in need of human contact and don't forget to not suck.

Be excellent to each other; and party on, dudes!