Sunday, February 15, 2015

The New Physics of Predetermination

I was listening to an interview with the author of a new Broadway play, "Constellations", which involves the concept of "multiverses". The audience must understand the concept in order to understand the play. Multiverses are concurrent universes. The interesting thing is, the interview was on a science show on PBS.

I recently had a transcendent moment for a couple of hours after two Nova shows on physics and string theory when I almost grasped the concepts. I'm back to my simplistic understanding of quantum physics as being related to if you put down a bowl of cat food, the cat will come, and if a bowl of dog food, the dog will come. (I think I also understood something about somebody's cat and a box, but that's gone now, too.)

Well, the theory has gone far beyond me. A growing number of physicists seem to believe theory shows a strong possibility of multiple universes.
A number of these same physicists apparently think these different universes are really the same universe, but with different outcomes. And that free choice, a prized attribute of humans, doesn't exist.

And that sort of blows my mind. I will have to learn more about this.

It sure would make a crazier universe than anyone expected.

So far as I understand, theism plays no part in these theories. It is all based on theoretical equations. And the snippet I heard may actually be as unrelated to actual physics as the cat and the cat food. But it is terribly interesting.

I'm imagining a universe where the asteroid missed the earth and dinosaurs still exist. People have not evolved yet. I would not be writing there.
And aliens might not be from far off galaxies, but alternate universes. At the least, it could be the greatest jolt to fiction since the popularity of the apocalypse. Literal space travel, from one universe to another. Maybe that's what worm holes could be....You wouldn't need time travel. You would just go to the universe where humans are in a different century. Or decade. Whatever. And you and yourself COULD both exist at the same time, because you would belong to different universes.

Great fun to think about.

I do believe in global warming. I doubt in my lifetime any physicist will come up with enough evidence to convince me that my sorry end is a predetermined when, where and how. What's the fun in that?

As I mentioned, all of these ideas came out of a discussion with the author of a new Broadway play. I just hope his plot is not obscured by all the discussion about the underlying theses. Or maybe that will be a good thing. Predetermined, so to speak.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ignoring the why when bad things happen

I've started three times today, and will work on the first two later. They need more thinking and more time.

I am not sure, but the only thing I really see that separates us from animals is one question:

Why?

Well, and the fact that animals have instincts where humans do not--and as we evolved, when did THAT creep in?
Humans don't believe they don't have instincts. I hear people talk about human instincts all the time.

We have a lot of fantasies we live by.

Watching my dog post-surgery for 29 days with a hood around his neck, I finally got it.
The fist couple of days, in pain, his eyes when he looked at me showed pain. He felt pain. He was trying to cope with this new reality. I don't think now, looking over it, that he ever wondered why? He was just sad and hurting.

His incision is almost invisible now, and he feels so good. He does remember the vet's office as a place he is not willing to go quite so much as before, but just a month later, that resistance is fading.

If he had wondered why, he wouldn't have come confidently to me for comfort and petting. His behavior would have changed as he tried to convince me not to hurt him again. He remained constant, consistently himself. That's admirable, I think.

When you take "why" out of your consciousness, the life you lead changes tremendously. " Why" leads to a lot of misunderstandings. "Why" leads to wars, and a cure for polio, and mass killings and better crop rotation. "Why", in fact, is the most dangerous question in human intellect.

If I were a better story-teller, I could weave a story about a curious woman who just had to open a box she wasn't supposed to open. But she was already infected with curiosity and wanting to know why.

Curiosity doesn't have to be about why. It can be about what's there? how does it work? where is it? Contrary to chainsaw massacre movie scenarios, survival can be aided by curiosity.

Be careful with that why question. It is seldom, if ever, answered simply. Misunderstanding the answer has caused a world of hurt through the eons.

But my silly dog doesn't ask why. If he worries, I don't see it. He doesn't anticipate bad times. If they come, he deals. When bad times end, he's happy. Actually, during the bad times he still found pleasure and some happiness.

He doesn't wonder why things worked out that way.

Silly old dog. He isn't smart. But he sure is wise.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Living with the 4 a.m. Wake Up Call

I have never awakened at four in the morning expecting my thoughts to cheer and entertain me. Never once said to myself, "Oh, good! I have waked up to have some lovely, happy thoughts." Nope.

Saturday night, I had one of those episodes where I wake at 4 a.m., pretty alert, and start thinking. Sleep is not going to come again for awhile. Sometimes, before I go back to sleep, and I usually do, I will set the alarm so I will get up when I intended, if necessary.

If I have a strenuous, hectic day ahead, not so bad. I may review my planning, tweak the routine somewhat, add things I forgot or move some task in my mind to another day. If I am anxious, I will meditate and/or pray about it. Often, I read for awhile.

This time was one of those life reviews when, at 4 a.m., my mind taps me on the shoulder and says, "Listen,you jerk, you need to wake up and think about this. I am so disappointed in you." I guess you could say that sometimes, in the dark of night, I am awakened by my hauntings.

Saturday night's waking, I know, was initially prickled by something I said I would do in two weeks and now it has been three. Which led to remembering other promises fulfilled slowly or not at all, and then the promises I should have made but never did. And at 4 a.m., for me, there are no excuses.

I don't know if these hauntings have made me a better person; certainly I will absolutely fulfill the delayed promise that woke me this time. I realize every one of us have had troubles, imperfections we struggle with, but I am sure--at 4 in the morning--that you have done better with yours.

It's just that I intended to do so much more and so much better.

I remember I was shocked when I turned 30. Thirty! Time was actually passing so much faster than I thought and I still hadn't done....x or y, or even z.

I am proud of the times when I have been relatively fearless, and so regretful for times I wasn't. I am more than 70 now, and I thought I would have grown up a long time ago, but I have learned life doesn't work that way. I see persons my age who seem finished. Content. Pleased. I enjoy them, but I still have so far to go. If every life is a kind of mountain we climb, I expected to have been so much further along the hillside by now. No summit in sight. (In site also works.)

I thought I knew a lot about love, and acceptance, and listening. I did know some. I've learned a lot more in the last year.

Philosophically, some one asked me recently, "Who are the people in your life you cannot forgive?"

That is a tough question. Everyone I have ever known personally I can, and have, forgiven. Faceless terrorists, greedy conscience-less capitalists who will harm the very earth as well as people...that's harder. That is more about causes.

The one person I have not yet been able to forgive is myself. So many hours and days wasted. So much more I could have done. Even better books I could have read and learned from. That time can't be changed or altered. It is past. Which is why the serenity prayer begins,"Give me the serenity to accept what I cannot change." It's hard to do.

The paradox is, I waste more energy better spent on the present and future if I fight the past.

So I will continue to struggle, and work to stop struggling and just do what comes next, and accept myself. No Pulitzer. No best-seller. No world tour for the kids, or trip to New Zealand and Australia for me...will I ever get to Boston, even? I'll never marry brilliantly, or hire a chauffer for my old age. I regret that I took the work I loved to do instead of being responsible enough to take at least one of the work opportunities that would have left me, now, with more money. And I sigh. If I don't want to do something, I am awfully bad at it. And that is self-indulgent.

I did read something recently that may help, and I will start journaling these stark 4 a.m. reviews.

I do know I enjoy my life overall, and that I believe my struggles make me a better human being. I am not hopeful of ever becoming such a good human being, though, that I think I shall ever have a time when my self doesn't tap me wide awake at 4 a.m. in the morning to tell me yet again, "We need to talk. You have really screwed up."

I do hope I get better at looking in a mirror and saying with sincerity, "I'm here for you."

I am glad I am hopeful again. And I regret, yes, that I let myself stop being so for a while.

Helen Hayes was one of the people who said, "It doesn't matter how many times you fall down. It's how many times you get up."

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Evolution of Feeding Children in Modern Times

A friend posted 30 photos of cute kids on Facebook yesterday, each with a caption about their picky eating habits.

All were under 5. A few were toddlers. The kid who dumps any food on the floor from his high chair unless said food is in a bowl gets a walk, and so do his parents. It irritates me more when I see parents not teaching toddlers about plates and bowls and consistently placin the food on the high chair tray. We aren't talking mashed potatoes, because said parents probably aren't teaching the kid to use spoons or forks yet, either.

What got me was the caption on a picture of one cutie, "I make my mom make something fresh every time I take one bite." Uh. Really?

You know, you don't see cat skeletons in the trees when they are scared to come down, and hungry children WILL eat.No need to make a fuss. No yelling or tears from the parent. Just...calm.

I have been volunteering with a mid-week program at my church for about five years now where the kids come in, sit six at a table with two adults not their parents, and learn to pass food family style. There are table rules, including taking a bite of everything, not leaving their seats or talking between tables, and not putting their feet on the table. The kids seem surprised. A lot of the adults let them break these rules regularly. These are almost all kids from middle class families.

I've had kids who screwed up their faces as they bravely ate one tiny little bud of broccoli at the beginning of the year who were scarfing down broccoli with cheese sauce by the end of the year. I've seen others who continued to find broccoli a yucky food. But they learn not to comment on it and not discuss the yuckiness with everyone else.

With new children, we ask if they have had family style meals before, and many haven't seen it except at extended family Christmas meals. In those cases, a lot of the time the food is served buffet style and someone else filled their plates. The big change I've seen in five years is the lack of experience even fourth and fifth graders have in serving themselves. Mom or Dad fills the plate and sets it in front of them. They have no concept of passing the food from person to person, no patience in waiting for the dish to reach them. They enjoy the task of getting the food on the spoon and to their plate without spilling. (You never know what skills you might learn in a church.)

And I, who am a basic slob where housekeeping is concerned, bite my tongue at the way the table gets set. My fellow teachers see no reason to make a fuss. It drives me nuts to see the fork and spoon to the right of the plate and the knife to the left, or some other non-standard configuration. I, too, let it go. The point is to talk to each other at the table and enjoy the food. I talk to them about the importance of seeing that everyone at the table has what they want before we all eat. Oh. One reason the kids love to be the server who goes for the food and then clears, I think, is another rule. We can pass the food, but until the server sits and takes a bite, no one can eat.

(I find I do this as well when I am invited to someone's home where the hostess is putting the food on the table. I wait till she sits down with us. I notice more and more that most people simply start eating. I think that's rude.)

A fair number of families still eat together one or more times a week at the table. Still more eat together on the couch in front of a movie on the television. I think that younger children are used to someone else dishing up and simply putting the plate in front of them. I find that five and six-year-olds can do it themselves. Awkwardly, and they usually take too much at first. They learn, We have very little spillage.

In this same five-year period, I am finding it harder to find some implements or foods I have taken for granted all my life. Society's choices are changing. Maybe eating together and passing the food is becoming archaic. I hope not.

Looking beyond your own plate is vital if we live together. It has been an easy tool for fostering harmony and smooth interaction in society, one table at a time.

I will be sorry if we let that vanish. It costs nothing to do. And it can be so pleasant.

And every once in a while, one of us stops to notice if someone else has an empty plate.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

More than a Century, and still Buckin'

The 119th Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show, otherwise known as the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, opened Friday for a 23-day run.

In recent years, it has entertained as many as one million people who want to see the sights, ride the rides, and watch the rodeo. I was reading a newspaper article today touting the annual stock show parade in downtown Fort Worth as having an authentic Western feel to it. Well, since it actually IS authentic, no wonder.

Cowboys? Ranchers? You want to see real ones, who can work cattle with a horse, a jeep or a helicopter? The Fort Worth Stock Show is the place. No wonder the number of international visitors grows each year. People coming to Texas want to see Real Cowboys. Boy Howdy, this is the time and place to see them.

The first stock show and rodeo was a one-day event in 1896, held in January when ranchers and cowboys in Texas don't usually have so much to do. It was popular. And it grew. I think many of the current cow and horse barns were built in the 1930s, but you can look it up. More have been added on in recent years. The grounds are pretty large. Parking mostly is outside and you walk. A lot. Which can get dicey.

There's a reason the region refers to "stock show weather." I've attended stock show parades when horses and riders are jingling along in the start of a sleet storm. Usually, however, a few days of temperate weather in the 50s, 60s, maybe even touching 70, can be followed by massive freezing, sleet, and ice for several days at the end of January/early February. (In Texas, sleet and ice on the ground usually lasts no more than a few days. We go for years without any, so we don't regularly have equipment to deal with it when it hits. Stock show people simply deal with it.)

Despite the iffy weather, a midway and rides are part of the show. My admiration is high when teenagers in puffy jackets, jeans and athletic shoes or boots climb aboard a ferris wheel that is going to whip up the breeze when it is only 38 outside. Maybe that's just me.

I haven't been to the rodeo in years. I don't know if recent improvements on Will Rogers Coliseum have shut out the cold drafts, but some sort of jacket usually is nice to have. Families who have been coming for generations reserve ahead to get the same seats every year. Tickets sell out so fast, it is difficult to find any particularly at night. Matinees have a few more seats available. A spokeswoman called it a "generational event", and it is. A lot of families have years of history with this event.

It is truly an exhibition with every kind of product, tool and machinery for sale and on display. Demonstrations and classes are held. Every breed of horses, cattle,pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens and so much more are judged. Human fashion shows leave me yawning, but I can watch for at least an hour while cattle to be judged are washed, blown dry, brushed, their tail tassels curled and their hooves shined. They are beautiful when ready to show. Other breeds also go through similar prepping. They are gorgeous.

I will say if you don't like the smells associated with livestock and hay, it's not your thing. The livestock show is a show for the people who grow the animals and bring them for judging and for the sales held during the show. You are very welcome to watch. Just don't get in the way.

Agriculture is still a viable industry in Texas, despite the drought. Not near so many cattle currently,though, in order to care well for the herds still here. Ag kids have brought their animals to the show for many decades, and the selling price of the Champion Steer still pays a majority of that teen's college education.

The rodeo is a classic, with a professional entertainer booked into the arena each year for a healthy contract. There's barrel racing, calf roping, steer wrestling, bronc riding, bull riding...you know, the usual. The big purses draw the top professionals in each category to the Fort Worth scene.

The Stock Show grounds are smack in the middle of the Fort Worth cultural district. The world-famous Kimbell Museum of Art is across the street, the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art with its collections of Remingtons and Russells is nearby (and free). The Museum of Science and History with its Amex screen is at one end, and Casa Manana theater in the round is at the other. The Cowgirl Museum is one of a kind, and there are other museums as well when folks get ready for a little change from the livestock. Participants do spread out. People who by profession live out of the city enjoy the culture and imbibe readily.

The stock and handlers come in by truck, but many of the ranchers fly in with families to enjoy the whole area while they are in the Metroplex.

When it began in the 1990s, the cultural attraction may have included a little seamier activity. Hell's Half Acre was once located where the city's convention center now stands in downtown Fort Worth. It provided women, gambling, and high-test liquor in quantity for cowboys ending a trail drive as well as competitors in the rodeo. Today, the city offers some mighty good restaurants, bars, and fine cigars.

The western kick to the cultural mix in Fort Worth makes it one of my favorite cities in the country. There's just nothing quite like it.

I think it's about time I visited the rodeo again.

It's been too long.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Me, myself, and I

When my eldest son was about 7 or 8 years old, he fell down and scraped his knee. Somehow, a strand of grass became encapsulated under the skin and it took surgery to remove it. (At the time, medics had no idea what was in the bump. They only knew that he had to be absolutely still while they removed it.)

This was in the 1970s, and the law then said you did not have to give your Social Security number to anybody, any time. As a matter of fact, requiring the
Social Security number was against the law.

However, hospitals had already begun using it as a convenient check to make sure two persons by the same name didn't get mixed up in the records. I understood what they were trying to do. I refused to give them my number, citing the law. Probably because it WAS the law, my son did get his surgery, and I didn't have to give them my number. Or his. Also, 30 years ago, megalithic corporations were not so common.

I do not want to live in a cave in the mountains of Idaho, and I believe those that do carry privacy too far. They and I, however, would agree on certain aspects in a conversation.

One reason I do not want a smart phone is the excessive opportunity for privacy invasion it presents. I am cautious about what I say on Facebook because I know that I am being tracked. Laws have changed, so my social is widely used today. It worries me some. My state doesn't link driver's licenses and car tags, and I wonder if those states have more identity theft or white collar crime. I would not say I am paranoid. I do think people who surrender privacy because they "have nothing to hide" are ingenuous, another word for stupid.

I interviewed two computer scientists who consulted all over the country on firewalls and privacy issues in the 1980s. They predicted then the hacking problems we are now experiencing. They said the business community didn't want to spend the money on protection, and businesses also saw an advantage to customers having little privacy protection. They said California, Colorado and Florida were states at that time concerned with privacy.

One of the experts told me,"People who would never dream of going through someone else's wallet will get on a computer and get the same information with impunity."

And this was almost 30 years ago.

I am bemused that George Orwell was right, in a way, when he predicted the privacy invasion in "1984". It is just that almost all the invasion is by corporations, not government.

I have a friend who is always getting involved in movements and causes. She used to send me petitions to sign on issues she knew I cared about. I did not sign them. I do believe groups can sometimes affect change, but only with a lot of effort over a long period to get incremental gains. Unfortunately, I am a pessimist who really works on positive attitude. As a result, I tend to act independently more than seek a like-minded group. I have a couple of exceptions in my life.

I am "on the grid" more than I would like, and yes, it has made life more comfortable. I do get a bit testy at social expectations of who I am as "a grey-haired grandmother." You seldom see men my age identified as "a grey-haired grandfather," though I have seen it once or twice recently. Wonder how THEY felt?

One of my resolutions this year is to become more technically nimble. It will enrich life and allow me to do some things that currently either stop or slow me considerably. I will continue to research, read, and listen to information on how to live in the 21st century with at least more than a modicum of privacy.

Someone recently told me I was a Luddite. Oh, I'm not one. But I get along surprisingly well with people who are.