Hail The Drunk Alchemist.

A rocket lifting off is an amazing sight not just because of the light and smoke, or the piercing of our atmosphere. Underneath that, there’s this Newtonian law. The Third Law.
ICESat-2 Launch (NHQ201809150015)

For every action force there is an equal and opposite reaction force.

Granted, there are so many other factors involved in a rocket launch, but the basis for almost all of it is that third law a drunk alchemist, who got hit with an apple, came up with through observation.

The photograph quality of this particular rocket is pretty stunning too.

I Was Going Somewhere With That.

Little Green Man says THAT WAYOne of the more ‘fun’ things that happens with writing is the distraction – when you end up off on a tangent because of other things.

Like earthquakes. Introspection because of how you see other people react about earthquakes. And then, because you’re already distracted, you end up writing about an attachment to vehicles.

And that actually fits in with all of what I was getting at. Granted, some people are distracted by the antics of people who they implicitly give authority to with their attention, or have that societal attention deficit disorder as frameworks do what they were designed to.

When the earth rumbles and people realize just how powerless they really are – when they can’t run away from something and there’s nothing to fight – a morbid reality sets in that can’t be so easily dismissed… for a short while, anyway. It’s not as if understanding plate tectonics is going to save you from an earthquake. Breaks in frameworks begin to show, and the ambiguity of how safe one really is seeps into the society.

Time moves along, the ambiguity pumps are manned as people find explanations from either science or religion or that-person-down-the-street-who-knows-everything… they find some comfort, getting rid of that ambiguity.

And suddenly, they’re acting as if nothing happened at all. As if they are safe, as if the few hours of their lives they spent with seismologists was enough – because to them the world is dangerous to know about, it’s dangerous to understand what happens outside of those frameworks.

People don’t want answers. They want comfort.

And, oddly enough, that’s an important point on the way to where I was going.

Perspective

spaceWe used to look up.

I don’t know exactly who I mean by ‘we’. Maybe it was my generation, when we had seen man actually make it to the moon. Maybe it was people of my mindset.  I’d like to think it was my generation, with parents who had watched the original series of ‘Star Trek’ – and our generation who saw the original ‘Star Wars’. Or,  ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, or even, ‘E.T.’.

We used to look up. We used to stare at the stars, some of us, while laying in the grass.

I’ve spent most of the day watching this live stream, in the background, as I read and did other things. It’s beautiful. It’s amazing. And we take it for granted, we sit there staring at phones, communicating about little of worth.

The things of worth we do talk about are about how we can’t keep things from flooding, or people from doing dumb things, or arguing over which idiot is better than which – we who could put a man on the moon, who could build an international space station, who could go peeking at other planets like a nosy neighbor.

We have the capacity to know where we are on our own planet with accuracy that would make ancient mariners ecstatic, and we have that on devices that Tesla told us we would eventually have. It wasn’t so long ago that these things didn’t exist. We dreamed big.

Then the Internet happened – a complex system of communication, too complex for our communication as we began to talk to people around the world. Kittens and pornography propagated it across the world.

Some were so intent on selling their products, services and thoughts that they got really good at marketing. In fact, they got so good at marketing that their marketing became better than their products, services and thoughts.

Somewhere along the way, I think we stopped looking up with a sense of awe. We stopped seeing what our combined efforts could do if we chose to work together.

We should look up.

Arts And Technology

Sisyphean TechnologyI found myself at my alma mater, discussing with the present Dean the divorce between Sciences and Literature a few weeks ago. It’s part of the concrete issue that I faced as a young man – in Trinidad and Tobago, then, probably around 1986, we were put into focused classes for Ordinary Level examinations.

There were paths for Modern Studies, Technical for the more hands on, and two Science classes. I made it into one of the two Science classes where we were driven down the science path – which most of us wanted. We were also required a language, which was Spanish. I was very happy with this at the time, only of the Computer Science aspect.

I was convinced Computer Science was my future, and to a large extent this was a self-fulfilling prophecy – as most prophecies seem to be.

In retrospect, as I spoke to the Dean of the school, a man younger than me, I looked back on how I wish I had the option to continue studying English Literature. I lost that when I got into the Science silo.

For 3 years prior, at the beginning of every summer vacation, I read all the books required for the next year. A voracious reader, I had read everything in the house already – all my father’s novels. Louis L’amour, James Clavell, Robert Ludlum, Stephen King, Zane Grey and Clive Cussler come immediately to mind. We also had an Encyclopedia from the early 1980s that I had read from end to end.

As I look back, I had two main passions but at the time I only understood the passion for one: Computer Science. The second, which I didn’t understand as a subject, was literature in it’s many forms – except plays. I thought reading plays was silly, and to a large extent I still do – you lose the forest for the trees, in my mind, and to write a forest one does not study trees but the forest. An opinion.

Now, what would have happened if I had been able to trade Spanish or Geography for English Literature? We could speculate a lifetime. I could say that the system failed me, but it’s not the system’s job to create individuals. In fact, when it comes to Education, what the system’s job is probably one of the most debated topics on the planet.

I can’t fix the Education system. That’s not the intent here. Nothing works for everyone, and it’s a fool’s errand to try to – but we set humanity’s most horrendous weapon to task, bureaucracy, and it grinds at young minds enough so that Pink Floyd wrote, “Another Brick In The Wall” as I began my very journey through the grind, beneath that wheel.

This isn’t about Education, though. This is about Learning, and the need to be balanced to at least be competent to some degree in sciences and art.

Just because you like being an individual who writes poetry doesn’t mean you won’t gain from understanding how a tree lives. Just because you like to know how things work doesn’t mean that you have to be spartan in your reading.

It was later on in life where I was rescued and given challenging things to read that tested my mind, poked and prodded it and teased out the importance of other things. It was an openness to knowledge that allowed me to do that, and while I was in a secondary school silo I did not feel that I had the time for such… luxury… such freedom to allow my mind to explore.

Yet I worked for decades with people who were generally horrid to communicate with, who weren’t aware of some of the lessons available in the Arts – about why society maybe should do some things and maybe shouldn’t do others. Ethics, and the roles as builders technologists play on the world stage. Philosophy. Being human. And in doing so, we forget what our role is, shrugging off the responsibility and putting it on others because we like our paychecks.

We should be better than that.

The Expanding of the Canvas

Framed WallI was standing with Tony, who I’d just bought a copy of his book from at the Presentation College Reunion. I mentioned I was battling existence in my mind.

He said we writers look at the world differently and see things differently.

That’s a true statement, I think. I also think that it’s not true enough.

Our world is framed, and when I say that, I mean that your world is framed, my world is framed, and everyone else’s world is framed. There is absolutely nothing in our world that we deal with that isn’t a derived construct of our brains. All of our senses are interpreted, processed and spat out to us as reality. We know what we like and we know what we don’t like.

That physiological limitation is the first frame. We cannot experience things like magnetic waves and radio waves directly; these are things that we have interpreted into motion and sound so that we know that they exist. And all of our frames are slightly different – someone may have better vision, someone else better hearing, and someone else may be more sensitive to touch, smell… the list goes on. And how we interpret these signals, the ratio of these signals, varies our framing.

Then, when we introduce more human beings, it gets more complicated. We have sounds we agree on for language, and around the world we agree on different languages. We agree on things like what the color blue is, even though each one of us might perceive it differently, some of us more sensitive to the visual spectrum than others, but we have this agreement on what we call blue – and if you get into the finer details, you find the disagreements.

We frame our own physiological experiences to each other in the context of what we agree on. We will say that the sky is blue, even though it actually only appears to be what we all agree on as ‘blue’. And that, too, we frame – within our physiological frame. The communication frame, the ability to share things with others and have them shared with us.

Then it gets even more framed with society, with cultures and subcultures, and suddenly we’re looking at the world through shared experiences rather than as we actually see it, the phrase, ‘typing at a keyboard’ only making sense to someone who knows what a keyboard actually is.

So I don’t know that just writers see the world differently. I think we writers simply communicate more differently than others in the written sense, some of us  to expand it because we see the world differently at some level of framing and feel the need to expand the canvas within the frame. Some could argue that artists only see things that way, but that argument is typically made by artists. Scientists also have that issue.

In fact, everyone has that issue. It’s how we expand our canvases… or try to… that allows others to define us so.

Influence: Nikola Tesla

Tesla-bulbUntil the last decade or so, Nikola Tesla‘s place in history was paid lip service. Growing up around a motor rewinding shop, I was surrounded by the children of his works just about every day. When I found out that one man had come up with all these ideas, I had to know more about him – and there certainly is a lot to know. His grounding in science and technology was one thing – but a lot of people don’t know that he also translated poems, and that he also was a friend of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain).

Grounded in science, he visualized things people couldn’t ‘see’  – magnetic fields, the flow of electricity. This is a man who created alternating current, something that many people can’t wrap their heads around. Increasingly, people can’t get their heads around any electrical thoughts, it seems, but… 

Beyond his science, he was a visionary who consistently put his castles firmly in the sky and then managed to build solid foundations under them. He lived a solitary life, which to an extent I understand – how do you share the kind of thoughts you have with someone else? How could anyone truly be close to someone who worked so hard to make his visions real? A solid work ethic, a solid scientific background, and the willingness to do what it took to see his vision through.

And people have begun to realize that. I could write more, but why would I when The Oatmeal pretty much nails it?

To understand reality is the drive in science, to dream and build in that reality is engineering.

Influence: Richard Feynman

Everyone has influences, and I’ve decided to write about a few of mine. Outside of Physics circles, few people seem to know about Richard Feynman – which is a shame. The majority of Feynman’s written works are not hard for people without a scientific background to read, and they all entail a philosophy well summed up here:

feynman-1981-2

Without a doubt, his writings have influenced me. In some places they resonated because they made sense to me on an intuitive level and allowed me to grow beyond that. In other places, such as Ethics, it opened me up to new possibilities in looking at situations though I didn’t necessarily agree with him but have no space to argue with.

As an example, his work on the Manhattan Project was something that he thought about with this logic: He and others were scientists working on a project, and the greater society was responsible for how that work was used (A summary from ‘The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist‘). This is a straightforward way of looking at things that can assist in dealing with paralysis when trying to move forward, but I’m not sure that it’s necessarily correct. Ultimately, in this example, he was right – particularly since there was a race at the time to have atomic weapons and someone else would eventually have them and use them.

Yet his way of looking at the world beyond the matters of people was less problematic and more supportive to my own life in that there is beauty in science, particularly since I have always existed within technology and art. Some of the greatest works of art around us are explained by science – the simple flower as an example:

I have a friend who’s an artist, and he sometimes takes a view which I don’t agree with. He’ll hold up a flower and say, “Look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. But then he’ll say, “I, as an artist, can see how beautiful a flower is. But you, as a scientist, take it all apart and it becomes dull.” I think he’s kind of nutty. … There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.
— Richard Feynman, What Do You Care What Other People Think? (1988)

Quite an interesting man – a curious man – was Mr. Feynman, unabashedly so, and one of the great communicators in Science. These days there are greats such as Neil deGrasse Tyson to keep an eye on – but I do not know the body of his work well, and he is not done yet – he’s certainly not as dead as Feynman.

Some more quotes that I think are of worth from Feynman:

Well, we’re getting a little philosophical and serious, ok? Let’s go back to what we’re doing. One day we look at a map and this capital is K-Y-Z-Y-L and we decided it would be fun to go there because it’s so obscure and peculiar. It’s a game. It’s not serious. It doesn’t involve some deep philosophical point of view about authority or anything. It’s just the fun of having an adventure to try to go to a land that we’d never heard of, that we knew was an independent country once, no longer an independent country, find out what it’s like. And discover as we went along that nobody went there for a long time and it’s isolated made it more interesting. But, you know, many explorers liked to go to places that are unusual. And, it’s only for the fun of it. I don’t go for this philosophical interpretation of “our deeper understanding of what we’re doing.” We haven’t any deep understanding of what we’re doing. If we tried to understand what we’re doing, we’d go nutty.
— Richard Feynman, p. 236, from interview two weeks before his death in “The Quest for Tannu Tuva” (1989)

I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers, and possible beliefs, and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything. There are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask “Why are we here?” I might think about it a little bit, and if I can’t figure it out then I go on to something else. But I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose — which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell. Possibly. It doesn’t frighten me.
— Richard Feynman, p. 239, from interview in “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out” (1981)