Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas

Christmas isn't my favorite holiday. In fact, the further I've been from home, the less important it has become. But still, I wanted to share my favorite Christmas song... so here it is.



Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Wisdom of Insecurity

A friend loaned me this little book, and in it I came across a very nice exposition which I'd like to share.
... in practice we are all bewitched by words. As a consequence, we are dismayed and dumbfounded when they do not fit. The more we try to live in the world of words, the more we feel isolated and alone, the more all the joy and liveliness of things is exchanged for mere certainty and security. On the other hand, the more we are forced to admit that we actually live in the real world, the more we feel ignorant, uncertain, and insecure about everything.
But there can be no sanity unless the difference between these two worlds is recognized. The scope and purposes of science are woefully misunderstood when the universe which it describes is confused with the universe in which man lives. Science is talking about a symbol of the real universe, and this symbol has much the same use as money. It is a convenient timesaver for making practical arrangements. But when money and wealth, reality and science are confused, the symbol becomes a burden.
Similarly, the universe described in formal, dogmatic religion is nothing more than a symbol of the real world, being likewise constructed out of verbal and convenient distinctions. To separate "this person" from the rest of the universe is to make a conventional separation. To want "this person" to be eternal is to want the words to be the reality, and to insist that a convention endure for ever and ever. We hunger for the perpetuity of something which never existed. Science has "destroyed" the religious symbol of the world because, when symbols are confused with reality, different ways of symbolizing reality will seem contradictory.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Arsenic and life

Remember that movie a decade or so back with the non-carbon-based alien lifeforms? They were defeated by selenium poisoning, as chemically the selenium would react the same way arsenic reacts with us. A NASA news conference (due to start in 43 minutes) may tell us something about it. Gizmodo has already leaked the news (as did the BBC): NASA has found bacterial life (here on Earth, mind) with arsenic in place of the phosphorus in its DNA. Let me put it in simple terms: THIS IS HUGE.
All life on Earth - at least, as we knew it - has the same "building blocks" from which to begin: DNA (and RNA), comprised of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus. But these bacteria, discovered in Mono Lake, California (a highly toxic environment), have no phosphorus in their DNA. None. It's all been replaced with arsenic. They are, in short, completely and fundamentally different from the rest of life on the planet. And that has tremendous implications. To everything.