Romantic Love and Other Delusions

 Some of your friends in the neighborhood get together to play a game of softball. Joey Dambrozio just had his first child. You ask him how that feels. “It’s amazing,” he says. “I’ve loved my parents and I’ve loved my wife. But the way I love my kid is different. It’s the first time I can honestly say that I love someone more than myself.” You look across a crowded bar and see a young woman with a beautiful face. Suddenly, she is looking at you, smiling. And in that smile you see the completion of your life. Everything that you lack or yearn for is there. You fall in love. It is an overwhelming love. The kind of love …

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The Expanding Universe

  In 1929, Edwin Hubble used his famous telescope to determine that galaxies were not fixed, as scientists had thought. All of them – including ours – were moving away from one another. He thought about this for a long time. Logic dictated that if galaxies were always moving away from one another, they must have been closer together in the past. At the beginning of the universe, he reasoned, they might have been one solid ball. How far had the universe expanded since then? In 1967, two radio engineers working for Bell Laboratories noticed a hissing noise in their instruments. They theorized that it could be sound waves from photons at the outer edge of the universe – 90 …

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In a Single Day

    You’ve had a tough day. The commute to work was spoiled by a traffic jam. A colleague jostled you at the coffee machine and you spilled your coffee on your new shirt. The morning was filled with interruptions, so you never finished preparing for your afternoon meeting with the boss. Your lack of preparation was obvious. By five o’clock, you had accomplished nothing important. You feel frustrated and angry. Driving home in a light rain, the car in front of you suddenly brakes. In an instant, your car is swerving and then spinning on the slick pavement. Your heart is racing. Horns are blaring. Miraculously, you come to a halt without being hit. You pull to the side …

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From the Journal of My Childhood Friend Alec Singer…

  My attitude toward sports my entire life has been, “Win or die.” In my middle 40s, I took up golf. In my middle 50s, I took up tennis. So now I have these two sports to replace football, basketball, and baseball. I was good, sometimes very good, in football, basketball, and baseball. Now I am a bad golfer and a bad tennis player. I just started these games too late. When I played football, if we needed a 1st down, they would throw the ball to me and I would catch it. When I played basketball, if we needed a basket to win, I was happy to take it. When I played baseball, I was confident I could get …

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Ways of Thinking

There are basically two ways to think about things: Focused thinking – for intellectual challenges that are somewhat familiar. Your brain understands the challenge and is able to travel down established pathways to find the answer. It is the sort of thinking we do when playing chess, repairing engines, and even analyzing poems. Diffused thinking – for challenges that are new. It is more intuitive, allowing for random associations. It includes daydreaming and the kind of thinking you do in the shower when “brilliant” ideas seem to pop into your head. The biggest challenges – like finding cures for cancer and solving political disputes and negotiating successful divorces – usually require a combination of focused and diffused thinking. Not simultaneously. …

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An Observation and an Argument

There are two energetic impulses in the universe: contraction and expansion. Contraction is energy moving inward. Expansion is energy moving outward. Contraction increases density and creates gravity, which pulls objects in. Expansion dissipates matter and creates antigravity, which allows objects to move away. Contraction is achieved through a process of tightening – atomic particles coming together. Expansion is achieved through the process of relaxation – atomic particles moving away from one other. Everything in the universe, including what we call matter, is comprised of energetic impulses. The overall nature of these impulses – inward or outward – determines the nature of the entity. Energy is always moving. Never static. Human beings are energetic fields held together by some sort of …

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The Scientific Method and the Little Teapot

 A ancient shepherd looks at the nighttime sky and wonders how the stars got up there. He wonders why they shift their positions as the year passes and why some burn white, some yellow, and some blue.

Using his intuition, he posits answers to these questions. When other men ask him what he thinks, he tells them his ideas.

Generations come and go and the shepherd’s ideas about the stars are repeated and repeated, usually with some minor modifications that suit the teller and in some way make the answers seem more plausible.

And they are received as plausible. Eventually, in fact, they are regarded as likely facts.

Over time, these likely facts become common knowledge. And with another hundred or a thousand similarly refined “likely facts” they become the common knowledge of the common culture. They become the common sense that allows people to understand their lives.

If a stranger wanders into town with an entirely different body of “common knowledge” he is seen as a madman or a troublemaker or a fool. If he’s thought to be mad, he’s relegated to the quadrants of the wandering mad. If he’s thought to be a troublemaker he’s run out of town or tarred and feathered or burned at the stake. If he’s thought to be a fool, he’s kept around for everyone’s amusement.

This is crude – but it’s how I believe most of the commonly accepted “truths” about our world and how it operates came into existence: they were born of limited observation, sparked into conjecture by wonder and turned into theories and then facts and then plain old common sense by the proliferation of their tellings.

This method of discover truth, I’m sure you would agree, leaves much to be desired. It feeds the imagination and can spark all sorts of impressive human inventions, but it is not a reliable method for ascertaining truth.

There is a better method – what we call the scientific method. It’s just as simple as this false method but it is more likely to lead us to facts. The scientific method goes like this:

We observe a phenomenon, wondering if there’s a natural law that governs it. Using our intuition, we posit a guess. We compute the consequences of that guess to see what it would mean in terms of predictable actions. Then we compare the results of those computations to nature using experiments or experience. If they jibe, we accept our guess as a scientific law. If they don’t, we reject it.

In trying to understand the nature and essence of being, this is the method we should use whenever possible. At the same time, we must be careful to avoid what Bertrand Russell called “intolerable propositions.”

Russell, one of the founders of analytic philosophy, came up with a clever analogy to illustrate the limits of logic – and to explain why you can’t have a meaningful conversation about anything if you begin with a presumption that is unacceptable in terms of human reason. Here it is…

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At the Supermarket

You are on a checkout line at the supermarket. When you joined it, it was the shortest of six. But it’s moving slowly. The line to the left of you seems to be moving faster. You glance at the cashier at the end of your line. He looks bored. The young woman cashing out the line next to you looks energized. And now it’s moving even faster! You back out of your line and angle your cart in that direction, only to find that someone else – a Neanderthal-looking guy — has beaten you to it. He gets there ahead of you. So you retreat. But the person who had been behind you in the first line has taken your …

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