Wednesday, February 14, 2024

The Silence Within

"The longest journey is the journey inward.
To have humility is to experience reality, not in relation to ourselves, but in its sacred independence. It is to see, judge, and act from the point of rest in ourselves. Then, how much disappears, and all that remains falls into place.
In the point of rest at the center of our being, we encounter a world where all things are at rest in the same way. Then a tree becomes a mystery, a cloud a revelation, each man a cosmos of whose riches we can only catch glimpses. The life of simplicity is simple, but it opens to us a book in which we never get beyond the first syllable.
To preserve the silence within - amid all the noise. To remain open and quiet, a moist humus in the fertile darkness where the rain falls and the grain ripens - no matter how many tramp across the parade ground in whirling dust under an arid sky."

Dag Hammarskjöld (1905 - 1961)

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

A Pattern or Dance

"Is no one inspired by our present picture of the universe? This value of science remains unsung by singers: you are reduced to hearing not a song or poem, but an evening lecture about it. This is not yet a scientific age.

Perhaps one of the reasons for this silence is that you have to know how to read music. For instance, the scientific article may say, “The radioactive phosphorus content of the cerebrum of the rat decreases to one-half in a period of two weeks.” Now what does that mean?

It means that phosphorus that is in the brain of a rat—and also in mine, and yours—is not the same phosphorus as it was two weeks ago. It means the atoms that are in the brain are being replaced: the ones that were there before have gone away.

So what is this mind of ours: what are these atoms with consciousness? Last week’s potatoes! They now can remember what was going on in my mind a year ago—a mind which has long ago been replaced. To note that the thing I call my individuality is only a pattern or dance, that is what it means when one discovers how long it takes for the atoms of the brain to be replaced by other atoms. The atoms come into my brain, dance a dance, and then go out—there are always new atoms, but always doing the same dance, remembering what the dance was yesterday."

Richard Feynman (1918 - 1988)

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Imagination Itself

"The tree which moves some
to tears of joy is in the eyes
of others only a green thing
that stands in the way. Some see
nature all ridicule and deformity...
and some scarce see nature at all. But
to the eyes of the man of imagination,
nature is imagination itself."

William Blake (1757 - 1827)

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Terra Mobilis

"Through the spectacles of geology, terra firms becomes terra mobilis, and we are forced to reconsider our beliefs of what is solid and what is not. Although we attribute to stone great power to hold back time, to refuse its claims (cairns, stone tablets, monuments, statuary), this is true only in relation to our own mutability. Looked at in the context of the bigger geological picture, rock is as vulnerable to change as any other substance.

Above all, geology makes explicit challenges to our understanding of time. It giddies the sense of here-and-now. The imaginative experience of what the writer John McPhee memorably called 'deep time' - the sense of time whose units are not days, hours, minutes or seconds but millions of years or tens of millions of years - crushes the human instant; flattens it to a wafer. Contemplating the immensities of deep time, you face, in a way that is both exquisite and horrifying, the total collapse of your present, compacted to nothingness by the pressures of pasts and futures too extensive to envisage. And it is a physical as well as a cerebral horror, for to acknowledge that the hard rock of a mountain is vulnerable to the attrition of time is of necessity to reflect on the appalling transience of the human body."

Robert Macfarlane (1976 - )

Friday, February 09, 2024

Light is a Thick Yellow Vitamin

"In the rain forest, no niche lies unused. No emptiness goes unfilled. No gasp of sunlight goes untrapped. In a million vest pockets, a million life-forms quietly tick. No other place on earth feels so lush. Sometimes we picture it as an echo of the original Garden of Eden—a realm ancient, serene, and fertile, where pythons slither and jaguars lope. But it is mainly a world of cunning and savage trees. Truant plants will not survive. The meek inherit nothing. Light is a thick yellow vitamin they would kill for, and they do. One of the first truths one learns in the rain forest is that there is nothing fainthearted or wimpy about plants."

- Diane Ackerman (1948 - )

Saturday, January 20, 2024

The World as a Neural Network

"If the entire universe is a neural network, then something like natural selection might be happening on all scales from cosmological (> 10⁺¹⁵ m) and biological (10⁺² − 10−⁶ m) all the way to subatomic (< 10−¹⁵ m) scales. The main idea is that some local structures (or architectures) of neural networks are more stable against external perturbations (i.e. interactions with the rest of the network) than other local structures. As a result the more stable structures are more likely to survive and the less stable structures are more likely to be exterminated. There is no reason to expect that this process might stop at a fixed time or might be confined to a fixed scale and so the evolution must continue indefinitely and on all scales. We have already seen that on the smallest scales the learning evolution is likely to produce structures of a very low complexity (i.e. second law of learning) such as one dimensional chains of neurons, but this might just be the beginning. As the learning progresses these chains can chop off loops, form junctions and according to natural selection the more stable structures would survive. If correct, then what we now call atoms and particles might actually be the outcomes of a long evolution starting from some very low complexity structures and what we now call macroscopic observers and biological cells might be the outcome of an even longer evolution. Of course, at present the claim that natural selection may be relevant on all scales is very speculative, but it seems that neural networks do offer an interesting new perspective on the problem of observers."

- Vitaly Vanchurin
The World as a Neural Network

Monday, January 15, 2024

Time and Space

"Because of the hazy, nondefinite character of quantum physics (called the Heisenberg uncertainty principle), at the dimensions of the Planck length, space and time churn and seethe, with the distance between any two points wildly fluctuating from moment to moment, and time randomly speeding and slowing, perhaps even going backward and forward. In such a situation, time and space no longer exist in a way that has meaning to us."