Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman On Truly Knowing a Thing

14 12 2015

RichardFeynmanBBC

“See, I have the advantage of having found out how hard it is to get to really know something, how careful you have to be about checking the experiments, how easy it is to make mistakes and fool yourself. I know what it means to know something and therefore, I see how they get their information and I can’t believe that they know it.” (Richard Feynman on pseudo-sciences, 1981)

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (Richard P. Feynman)

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Life, Filtered…Through You

24 08 2015

Life Filtered Through YouWe’ve all heard, at one time or another, that there are no two snowflakes alike.  Science has confirmed this.  It is estimated that there are something like ten quadrillion (that’s 10,000,000,000,000,000) water molecules that make up a snowflake.  Thus, while many snowflakes at the microscopic level appear to be similar, at the molecular level they are all different.

Which brings us to you.

You are unique, to say the least.  And so am I.  At the molecular level, to be sure, but in a number of other areas of involvement, measurement, comparison, etc.

What this means is that each one of us see the world in slightly different ways.  You and I have differing perspectives on everything from this morning’s global sell-off on the world financial markets to the fallout of the Ashley Madison web hack debacle.

We all see things differently.  It’s meant to be that way.

Put another way, we all are positioned in a unique way to see and filter everything locally, nationally and internationally, even cosmically, is different colors, shades, shapes, nuances.

One angle is your time in human history.  Another is your geographic placement (are you Oriental or Occidental?).  How about your embedding in the economic strata?  Your level of education provides you with special tools for this task as well.

The biggest variable is the questions you ask of people and of life.  The late Rabbi Dr. Edwin Friedman shared this anonymous quote before he died: “If you do not have answers, do not feel too badly.  But if you do not have questions, you had better feel your pulse.”  A mentor of mine once told me that he asks questions to get…answers? Wrong.  “To get to better questions.”  The Socratic Method is not going away anytime soon.

You have a place in this world for a reason.  You’re not an accident (I’m a theist.)  When you ask questions, when you speak up and out, you bring–unless you’re a parrot–something unique to the discussion, new light, slightly different perspectives and colors.  And when you do, people gain greater insight.  (Do you really want to leave this to the pundits, the intelligentsia, and mainstream news media on both sides?  I didn’t think so.)

So take life in.  Ask lots of pain in the backside questions of it.  And speak up!

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Getting Airborne

16 02 2014

FlightIf you’ve ever flown in a large airliner and been seated on or near a wing, you’ll notice that there are adjustments made to the size and configuration of the wings before the pilot begins his takeoff roll.  Flaps and slats are extended, which increases the surface area and shape of the wings.  Large jet aircraft need this.

I remember vividly a terrible object lesson that illustrated what can happen when this crucial pre-takeoff step is omitted.  I lived north of Detroit, MI, in August, 1987.  One very hot and muggy Sunday evening, I was busy making donuts for the next day’s business at the bakery where I worked.  Sweat poured off me.

About an hour into the shift, a newsflash interrupted the regular radio programming announcing that a large airliner departing from Detroit Metro Airport had crashed upon takeoff.  There was one survivor—a little girl named Cecilia who was shielded by her mother.  It was an event that haunts Michiganders even  now, years later.

The ensuing NTSB investigation yielded the crucial piece of information as to why this flight was doomed.  Engine failure? No.  Mid-air collision with another aircraft?  Again, no.  The pilots had forgotten to extend the flaps and slats.  It was a hot, muggy night and this important pre-takeoff adjustment was even more critical.  The plane didn’t get the lift it needed and collided with the light towers of the nearby car rental area just northeast of the airport and came down on Middlebelt Rd.

The crash of Northwest Airlines Flight 255 was a tragedy.  Lives lost and families changed forever.

In life, we talk about “hitting the mark for our lives.”  We speak of our dreams, things we want to be and do.  Doing so, we often use the metaphors of flying.  “Fly high—the sky’s the limit.”  And so forth.

Often, we fail to get lift not unlike the jet that crashed that muggy August evening.  And, like an airliner, it is because we don’t prepare ourselves–emotionally, mentally, and physically–to accelerate into the wind and get airborne, moving towards a better future.

All the jet engines in the world will not get a plane off the ground if the shape and volume of the plane’s wings are incorrect, either by design or failure at during pre-flight adjustments.

Can I suggest that some basic modifications—and these are not big—can help us all really to roll on down the runway, get the lift we need, and soar?  Here are some:

  • Don’t be dependent on the approval of others before you roll down the runway.  Hitting a “Like” button on a social media website really doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight in the long haul—unless, of course, you let it.
  • Be honest with your makeup, drives, loves and preferences.  It’s doing something for which you have both aptitude and enjoyment that ultimately helps you fly.  Yes, we all have day jobs which we may or may not “love” but we can leverage these as well as our hobbies and avocations for the flight.
  • Avoid negative people.  They “drag” you down.  Drag hinders flight and is the reason that any jet you watch lift off the runway pulls in its landing gear immediately.  Drag will keep it from flying high and can bring it down.

Now soar!

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Be Safe in the Sub-Zeroes

2 01 2014

5281607650_7d1644d451_zOkay, this post is entirely practical.  We’re in the middle of a blizzard here in Northern New York.  I live about 12 miles north of Watertown, NY, near the St. Lawrence River and the Canadian border.

The base temperature has not risen above -7 degrees Fahrenheit.  The wind chill is about -33 degrees F.

It’s lethal outside.  No hyperbole or overblown statement.  You need to take precautions (the following courtesy of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette):

•Dress in several layers of lightweight clothing, which will keep you warmer than a single heavy coat.

•Mittens provide more warmth to your hands than gloves.

•Wear a hat, preferably one that covers your ears.

•Utilize a scarf or knit mask to cover your face and mouth.

•Wear waterproof, insulated boots to keep your feet warm and dry and to maintain your footing in ice and snow.

•If working outside, take frequent breaks and stay hydrated.

•Limit your time outdoors and stay dry.

•Shivering is the first sign the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.

Protect Yourself at Home:

•Be careful with candles – do not use candles for lighting if the power goes out. Use flashlights only.

•Use generators correctly – never operate a generator inside your home, including the basement garage or porch.

•Run the generator as far away from the house as possible and point the exhaust away from open doors and windows to avoid potential carbon monoxide poisoning.

•Install and/or check carbon monoxide detectors.

•Check smoke alarms once a month by pressing the test button and replace batteries as necessary.

•Prevent frozen pipes – when the weather is very cold outside, open cabinet doors to let warm air circulate around water pipes.

•Let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe – even at a trickle – helps prevent pipes from freezing.

•Never attempt to thaw pipes using a blow torch or any open flame device. Use warm water or a UL-listed device such as a hand-held hair dryer.

•Keep a glass or metal fire screen around the fireplace and never leave a fireplace fire unattended.

•Do not burn paper in a fireplace or use an accelerant to start/grow the fire.

•Keep the home’s thermostat set to a consistent temperature.

•If you plan on using an alternate heating source, never use a stove or oven to heat your home.

•If using a space heater, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to safely use the heater. Place it on a level, hard, nonflammable surface away from combustible materials including curtains.

•Always turn the space heater off when you leave the room or go to sleep.

•Keep children and pets away from your space heater and do not use it to dry wet clothing.

•Don’t forget your pets. If you can’t bring them inside, provide adequate shelter to keep them warm and make sure they can get to unfrozen water.

Be safe out there.  Stay in if at all possible.  And remember…Spring is 78 days away!

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The Book of Lights and Tough Ethical Questions

13 10 2013

The Book of LightsI’m currently reading a book by Chaim Potok, author of my favorite novel, The Chosen.  This particular book, written in 1981, The Book of Lights, is set in Korean War-era New York City near historic Riverside Church and Grant’s Tomb, Korea, and Japan.

The main protagonist, Gershon Loran, has been ordained into the rabbinate and conscripted into the service after the armistice has been signed.  He is a somewhat melancholy and, at the same time, brilliant and reflective man who is particularly enamored with the study of Kabbalah–the books of Jewish mysticism.  He is haunted by visions.

His roommate, Arthur Leiden–also a rabbinical student and future rabbi, is a curious figure.  He is a conflicted man, often drinking too much and coming to class unprepared (and drawing upon himself the kind of ire that was standard for teachers towards lazy students a generation ago.)

Arthur is conflicted as well because his father, a physicist, was involved in the creation of the atomic bomb.  Albert Einstein, Harry S Truman, Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi are all colleagues of Arthur’s father and figure into the story.

The book, a predictably thoughtful story, forces the reader to examine the moral import and consequence of developing weapons of mass destruction and its consequences for those who bear the weight of such a dark legacy.

I am about half the way through this novel.  Potok is a masterful writer.  He understands the human psyche and Jewishness (in which he was both raised and trained).  Read this and his other works.

And reflect.

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39

10 10 2013

39Guilty pleasure:  Sometimes it’s a lot of fun to play head games with somebody, especially if they’re close to you.

I decided to do this with a colleague today at work.  “Listen to this,” I chatted him, “it will mess with your head.”

This song was written by a post-graduate student of Astrophysics in England, mid 1970’s.

Though it sounds like a song chronicling the beginning of World War II, it is actually about spaceships, time travel, physics and Einsteinian relativity.

It was written by one Brian May.  Um, er, Dr. Brian May.

Brian May was working on his doctorate in Astrophysics in the mid 1970’s when his group, Queen, hit the big time.  Really big.

He left off his education.  For the time being anyway.  One strikes the anvil when it’s hot.  And Queen was hot after the release of A Night At the Opera, which featured this song.

It’s the story of a big spaceship that takes off with a crew, traveling at the speed of light.  Though away for a year, they return to the world now a hundred years older though they have aged a year.  It’s theoretical physics.  Time, a physical property that varies with mass and gravity.  It’s the creation of a physicist, not someone on LSD.  I love this.

A few years ago, Brian May resumed his studies and earned his Ph.D.  How inspiring!  And he is one of my favorite guitarists ever.

Enjoy!

39

In the year of thirty-nine
Assembled here the volunteers
In the days when lands were few
Here the ship sailed out into the blue and sunny morn
The sweetest sight ever seen
And the night followed day
And the story tellers say
That the score brave souls inside
For many a lonely day
Sailed across the milky seas
Ne’er looked back, never feared, never cried

Don’t you hear my call
Though you’re many years away
Don’t you hear me calling you
Write your letters in the sand
For the day I take your hand
In the land that our grandchildren knew

In the year of thirty-nine
Came a ship in from the blue
The volunteers came home that day
And they bring good news
Of a world so newly born
Though their hearts so heavily weigh
For the earth is old and grey
Little darlin’, we’ll away
But my love this cannot be
Oh so many years have gone
Though I’m older but a year
Your mother’s eyes from your eyes cry to me

Don’t you hear my call
Though you’re many years away
Don’t you hear me calling you
All your letters in the sand
Cannot heal me like your hand
For my life, still ahead, pity me

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