Saturday, May 29, 2021
Friday, May 28, 2021
Every sentence in a great novel is a work of art. Context; delivery; tone; word-choice; grammar; maybe even a bit of metaphor or allegory. A simile. I write this blog as though I were under a strict time limit, whereas a great writer crafts every sentence as though she were cutting a famous diamond. A diamond that would be given a name and treasured for all of history. This is the sentence that I will be remembered for! The beauty of a great sentence can stun a sensitive reader the way a masterpiece by a great artist can stun a viewer. Each thing proves, in its way, the potential of humanity. They broadcast to the world: this is the greatness that lives in mankind. It doesn't always work out that way. There are examples in literature and the visual arts that stun for all of the wrong reasons.
Without placing it at any particular point on the value scale, I offer the following sentence as a lesson for the would be writers out there:
“Reinhardt shuddered awake, again, clawing himself up from that dream, that nightmare of a winter field, the indolent drift of smoke and mist along the hummocked ground, the staccato line of the condemned and the children's screams.” *
This is the first sentence of a novel that is available on Amazon. It's not a vanity project like my own Amazon offering. This book was actually published by Berkley, and has been sold through Penguin Group (USA). I am in no position to evaluate greatness in other people's English sentences, but I do know a good one from a bad one. I am simply a humble reader, and writer, and sometime editor. If my own sentences read smoothly and deliver a clear meaning, I am content. I try not to be judgmental, unless I am being paid to edit something. As a reader, I tend to be forgiving if the writer is a real historian and the book is non-fiction. Reading novels and other fiction, however, I can be quite demanding. This is probably a fault in me.
But sentences, and in particular the above highlighted sentence. Not all are worthy of study. This example, however, should be closely examined by all beginning writers. My lawyer has advised me that I am not to say one more word about this sentence. I am a lawyer, and I am therefore in charge of my own risk-management division. We live in a litigious society, and people get sued for the damnedest things. I generally listen to the lawyer in me, so that will be my final word on the subject.
*From “The Man from Berlin,” by Luke McCallin
Friday, May 21, 2021
Wednesday, May 19, 2021
Say thanks! I'm not going to write about anything substantive today. I'm in a mood.
Relax, I'm not going to describe any dreams. Poetry and dreams are certain death for a blog. But I have a comment on the process. Of dreams, that is, not poetry.
I am informed, and believe, that what we see in dreams are merely place-holders for the actual subject matter. Many writers have kept dream notebooks and found ideas for stories in there among the nonsense. That might work, and good for them. It does appear, though, that mining dreams for their deeper meaning is probably a waste of time. If it's all symbolic, or only the photographic record of separate items that the brain is sorting in our sleep, then dream analysis really is a waste of time. They have their effect though, don't they? They do on me.
Over the course of the last week, I have awoken from two dreams that were very similar in the style of the imagery, the nature of the subject matter, and the overall tone. Vague on the details of the visuals; family centered on the subject; and without any fear or menace in the tone. Both had a powerful emotional impact on my mood upon awaking. One gave me a feeling of well-being and absolution that lasted throughout the day. The other left me sitting on the edge of the bed feeling responsible for terrible things, worthless, and horribly alone.
We go to sleep at night, and for an unknown portion of that time, we dream. The brain remains active for the entire time that we are asleep, forming, collating, and filing memories, solving problems, searching too, I think, for long ignored bits of memory that would have come in handy earlier on that particular day or another day, perhaps long ago. I know for sure that the brain, in sleep-mode, goes over events that happened weeks or months ago, still wondering if important actions or information had been omitted. Amid this hurricane of electro-chemical activity, dreams bubble to the surface to console us or taunt us, or just to confuse us.
Many people never remember dreams or dreaming. They may know that for a medical certainty they do dream, but asked under penalty of perjury if they did, in fact, dream, they would be forced to say, “not to my knowledge.” They might be the lucky ones.
For the rest of us, dreams are our fate, and we enjoy them or suffer them accordingly. May all of your dreams be cheerful and lighthearted, and may all of your nightmares be forgotten even before you realize that you have had them.
Saturday, May 15, 2021
Thursday, May 13, 2021
I do not believe in miracles. I do not believe in ghosts, nor in any other form of life after death. I do not believe in God. I do not believe that there is a little bit of good in every person. I do not believe in love. I do not subscribe to the myth of individuality. I believe in neither truth, nor justice. I do not believe in the inevitability of either judgment, reward, or punishment. I do not believe in ideas or perceptions. I doubt most of what I see or hear, and I am beginning to wonder about the reality of color.
I do believe in man, woman, birth, death, and infinity, not necessarily in that order.
Monday, May 10, 2021
Saturday, May 8, 2021
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
Many academics work on problems related to space and its contents. In overlapping fields like astronomy, cosmology, and theoretical physics, they ponder the big questions. What the hell are we looking at when we look up? What makes it all hang there just so? It's fun to watch them squirm.
They can be an overconfident bunch, but most of them will admit that there is a lot that they do not know. They know an awful lot about our solar system; their knowledge of galaxies near and far is becoming really impressive; when it comes to the universe, the whole magilla, they are still very much in the dark. They like to act like they understand it, and to be fair they have learned a lot about it, but the book of what they do not understand is far bigger than the book of their accomplishments.
It seems to me, a casual reader of science articles in general interest publications, that every question that the scientists answer raises several new questions about which they might not ever have any good guesses.
These scientists are very busy. Almost all of them are in a publish-or-perish situation. So they ponder, and design experiments, and work on math problems that regular people cannot begin to describe. And they write. Their subject matter ranges from the universe itself, down through the largest to the smallest structures and celestial objects in the universe, never stopping in this reduction in focus, down to the smallest sub-atomic component parts of matter and energy.
For me, their fascination is contagious. It's like that game called Kabaddi*, which is extremely popular in India, but which has not penetrated the larger world much beyond Pakistan and perhaps Sri Lanka. I watched games on TV in Asian hotels, but I had absolutely no idea what they were doing. There were men who wore uniforms and looked very athletic, and there was a marked-off surface, They were in a small stadium, and I could see that there was an object to the game, that strategies were being employed, but I could not for the life of me find any purpose to any of it. The announcer would be going nuts, in Urdu, or Hindi, but I didn't see anything happening at all.
And yet, I found the game fascinating, and I very much enjoyed watching the players do whatever it was that they were doing. That's the way I feel about cosmology and theoretical quantum physics. The academics write articles that I do not in any meaningful way understand. I do, however, understand the vague outlines of their subject matter, and I definitely enjoy reading the articles. Well, conditioned, I suppose, on some allowances being made for the casual reader.
Regarding sub-atomic quantum mechanics, I will admit that I lack the beginnings of a license to have any opinion at all. So, on then to the universe.
We live in a solar system, which is already pretty big. I believe that if you count the outer rings of ice chips that mark the outer reaches of our solar system, the whole thing might be one light year “across.” (It's not shaped like a ball, but bear with me here.) Then there are other stars that are only a few light years away, spinning around with their own solar systems. And so forth, with the stars and their entourages. We are part of a galaxy, the Milky Way, that is very average in every particular. A common size; a common shape; made up of common sub-galactic structures and some black holes of unremarkable size and distribution. In the manner of such things, we are probably part of some kind of galactic cluster, or cloud, or something, and when we look up at night, if you can find a place to stand that is clear of pollution by particles or light, you can see, with the naked eye, billions of mostly galaxies, but also a lot of nearby stars, and a handful of planets. This is where it starts to become very interesting.
Those three types of objects, galaxies, stars, and planets, move in relation to each other in ways that are very different, and yet all predictable. This was first noticed without mechanical aid by a few geniuses around the world between thirty and one hundred thousand years ago. This information was very useful in the prediction of weather and animal migration patterns. Stonehenge was an observatory, and for tens of thousands of years before that men almost like us had been creating structures for the same purpose. Wooden posts; mammoth skulls. Materials that could not withstand the wear and tear of the aeons.
Beginning with the Renaissance, telescopes, ever bigger telescopes, orbital telescopes, and radio telescopes, have allowed us to examine more of what we can see on a good night in a clear place. The name for “everything within our personal time/ space continuum” is: the universe. The universe, as anyone could tell you, is large. “How large is it, Johnny?” Well, that's a good question. No one knows.
The academics can now agree that the universe began, all of a sudden, something close to fourteen billion years ago. That is, to me, a disappointingly small number, which seems to indicate that they are not even close to understanding the true origin, age, and nature of this thing of ours.
We are not at the center of the universe, we, here on our little rock, orbiting our little star. I apologize if this knowledge is disappointing to you. We do, however, have the illusion of being the center of the visible universe. This is because all of the galaxies are zooming outward, and away from each other, at a frightening rate. The universe came into existence with a bang at a date certain, and the speed of light being what it is, the most distant objects that we can see are ghosts of what was there fourteen billion years ago. That means that when we look in all directions from our little vantage point and see fourteen billion year old galaxies at every point in the sphere, we are at the center of the OBSERVABLE universe. Since the galaxies are all moving away from us, and each other, galaxies are constantly blinking out as they pass to an area that is more than fourteen billion light years away from us.
This means that an impressive number of galaxies exist beyond the range of our vision, however augmented by science and technology. I would hazard a guess that the number of galaxies that are beyond our vision at least equals the number within our range of vision. We're way up in the trillions now, or multiples of trillions, or trillions to a factor of who knows?
And the space! The size of it! What we can see is already an unfathomably large area. Now it appears that our little corner of space/ time is a great deal larger then we ever imagined, to put it in layman's terms. Where does it end? I had always thought that the four corners at the end of the universe were located in Fort Green, Manitoba. My reading has forced me to make adjustments in this hunch.
There may be a boundary. With merely a layman's intuition it is possible to imagine that there is a place beyond which it is no longer part of our own familiar space/ time. All of the matter and energy that is ours is behind you if you reach this limit. Like passing that outer ring of ice chips allows you to leave, in every meaningful way, our solar system. What are you looking out at when you are standing there?
I know, it is very tempting to say, “a void.” But if modern science has taught us anything, it is that nature never, NEVER, allows a void. There is always some form of matter or energy lurking there in the apparent emptiness.
My hunch is that standing there at the edge, if you looked over your shoulder, you would see our own universe. If you looked outwards, you would see a great deal of darkness, punctuated occasionally by tiny spots of light that would turn out to be other universes. So by now I'm suggesting that there is much more to this reality business than even most of the academics are prepared to allow.
I wish them luck, those academics. Those Ph.Ds in the sciences that are devoted to genuinely tackling subjects like this. Those Sheldons and Leonards and Rajeshes. Those Big Bang Theorists! I salute them. They work hard on problems that really mean something, while I spend my working hours teaching university students subjects that don't really interest them and trying to motivate them to study a language that can help their country's development and definitely make them more money. (That's all a tough sell, I can tell you.)
I would describe my true feelings about the importance of all of this, but that would probably meet the definition of a danger to himself and others.
*Please take some time to Google Kabaddi. Even better, first go to YouTube and watch part of a game. I'll bet you a dollar that you can't figure out what's going on. Then go to Google and read about how the game is played. You will be amazed.