Tuesday, February 21, 2017


The first book to come to mind in the matter of Where is "Longitude" by Dava Sobel.  Might not sound all that interesting but it is a thrilling book on the way men sailed and got very lethally lost without being able to measure longitude, how far around the globe they were. The sun helped with latitude but longitude was horrible.


Where?  Here!

Where?  There, over there.  Overseas.  Some place else.

Not in my backyard.

In a galaxy far, far away.

Where the wild things are.

Where are my keys?

Where was I, Class?

Where?  Where they do things differently.

Where?  Where I can live a better life.

Where?  Go to hell.

Where am I?

Where was I?

Where was I yesterday?

Where do you live?

Where have you been?

Where have you been all my life?

Where was I at the time of the crime?

As with When, we have mysteries. We don't know everything about Where we are or Where we could be.  The same Dava Sobel has written about Copernicus and his better way of thinking about the local universe.  It was still in the 1920's that some astronomers thought that the Milky Way, our constellation, was the entire universe.  Again, Dava Sobel has written about the women "computers" (no electronic computers yet) at Harvard who figured ways to measure the distance to some stars and show that many were much further away than our neighbors in this galaxy.

You can take a minute to put "famous women astronomers" in Google and learn about Vera Rubin and the current theories of dark matter.  Many male astronomers have helped us know more about Where we are, including those who showed that the universe is expanding.

If you want to learn about Where, try Google Earth, which can show you the bottoms of the oceans and Where you live.  See the movie "The Martian" to get an idea of Where we may go some day.

I overheard a colleague talking with a student.  "Well, who is your advisor?"  

"Dr. Kirby"

"Well, Dr. Kirby may be able to be in two places at once."

I thought of that statement when I sat in a classroom and could hear myself teaching in the next room (on video tape).

Monday, February 20, 2017


We have heard of the five W's and 1 H:

  1. What

  2. When

  3. Where

  4. Who

  5. Why

  6. And How

These are the English interrogatives and Wikipedia labels them a formula for getting a complete story about something.

I was surprised by Ezra Bayda's explanation of the power of What to focus attention on the current moment.  I have been watching for abstractions of thought and imagination, facing the fact that honor, duty, yesterday's experiences and what is likely to happen tomorrow are all abstractions, often helpful, maybe essential to human operations but still not real in the same sense that this desk is real.  

You may be familiar with "The Power of Now" and Eckhart Tolle's emphasis on the value of being present in the now.  So, when?  Now!  Sometimes.  But when my greatgrandson wants to know "When will I be an adult?", we kick the concept of adult around a bit, do a calculation and try to indicate a time in the future.

You know that is what they say dogs always answer to the question "What time is it?" "Now!"  But my greatgrandson has dreams and plans to be accomplished in the future and refuses to live like a dog.  (Probably couldn't if he wanted to, too bright, too spirited, too intelligent, too inquisitive, too language-conscious.)  He may develop some tools for stepping out of the imaginary flow of time, as Yogi Berra did:

Manager: What time is it?

Yogi: You mean now?

He may study scales of measurement and conclude that this is 2017 on a time scale with an arbitrary zero point, approximately the year of the birth of Jesus.  He may find that there are something like 60 calendars in use in different places and that we don't really know when When started.  

So, when?

When I tell you to

When hell freezes over

In 20 minutes

Next year at this time

How many times do I have to tell you?

Let me get back to you on that

Sunday, February 19, 2017


I am surprised by the impact this quote has had on me:

When life isn't going as we wish, practice is neither to seek explanation nor to assign blame. We can practice simply being with the "what" on as many levels as we can, rather than looking for the "why." Once again we ask the koan, "What is this?" The answer to the question is always our experience itself. This "what" is the present moment. And this is where real understanding lies: not in the mental world of "why," not in intellectual description, but in experiencing directly the ambiguous perceptual complexity of the present moment.

At Home in the Muddy Water:A Guide to Finding Peace within Everyday Chaosby Ezra Bayda, page 26

I had never noticed the relation between What and one of my favorite questions these days.  The question "What's a _____________?" has been helping me keep track of the meaning of words.  What's a valet?  What's a commode?  What's an Instagram? Some old-fashioned things are referred to by words that are not familiar to today's young people.  In fact, take a look at the eye-opening book "The African Svelte" by Daniel Menaker to see some surprising twists recently given to rather common expressions.

(The word "svelte" derives from Italian and means slim and lean while "veldt" comes from Afrikaans and means the landscape in parts of South Africa. The book is about poetic and inspiring mixups as in "she was a pillow of strength", which is exactly what some women are.)

"What is this?" may be a question you can easily answer or it may be a toughie.  But Bayda's point in the quote is that focusing on what is in front of you and answering the question in simple, direct and immediate terms can help you step out of the forest of abstractions, memories and guesses about the future.  You can rest a bit in this moment, this present.  You can hear, see, smell, taste and feel what is right here now.

(An example of how things are changing: a used hardback of the Bayda book is available from several sellers for $.01 plus shipping or for $21.99 for an e-copy.)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Respect for our eyes and ears

Our drive faces south so when I drive in or out, the rising sun is on our right, the east side.  Today has been quite warm, 50° F and warmer.  The snow on our roof is melting and dripping off the roof.  The dripping is a good sign of spring and warmth.  Each drop of melt sparkles in the morning sunlight and is beautiful, especially pretty when the drop strikes the sidewalk beneath and shatters.

I wanted to get a picture of the falling sparkles. I tried a photo with my iPad and I tried a video.  The photo caught no sparkle at all.  It just showed a wet sidewalk.  A wet sidewalk in bright sunlight either means melting and warmth or it means it is raining.  But it was the sparkle I was after.  

Ok, the falling drops are moving so I tried a video.  Nope.  No deal.  Just a tiny indication of drops with the briefest possible twinkle.  Not inspiring or noteworthy.  So, let that be a lesson: our eyes and ears are advanced instruments and can do things all the time and quickly and easily that many semi-advanced pieces of equipment can't accomplish.  You had to be there to see the sunlight, the splatter of the drops and the marvelous sparkles of the collusion between newly melted snow melt and the cement sidewalk.

Our eyes and ears, in low light and high noise, under a wide range of conditions, do marvelous things all the time.  You can take it all for granted but when you are older and grayer, you may pause and think what a wonder you have been since your conception. We are actually pretty cool!

[I got about 30 bounces this morning from yesterday's emailed.  It was only two pictures, the amaryllis on Feb. 4 and on the 16th.  I thought the contrast and the growth were heartening.  If you want to see them, look up the blog page for Fear, Fun and Filoz.  I suspect the photos were too large.]

Feb. 4

Feb. 16

Thursday, February 16, 2017

What about religion?

I met with the hospital chaplain today to get my end of life directive in shape.  She told me that the hospital is under new management and there is an increased emphasis on having such documents on hand and in good shape.  

Among many people I know, religion has dropped in importance and emphasis in life.  But many of the questions that prompt religious thought and practice still loom large in life: Am I a bad person?  Will I be punished or pleased in an afterlife?  What is life about?  Do I deserve the life I have?  Have I lived as well as I could have?

Philosophy, modern and older, has wrestled with these questions for millennia and no doubt will continue to do so.  But modern communication and knowledge storage and science alters the situation quite deeply.  We can find answers to questions in more places and in more forms and from more sources and thinkers and traditions than our grandparents or their grandparents ever could.

Whether it is legal prompting, or medical discoveries or scientific theories or advances, the natural questions that an inquiring mind comes up with about our lives, our purposes, our pasts and our futures still get raised.  Rising levels of education, better methods of inquiry, competition among scientists and between commercial organizations and between nations all push for new answers and re-examination of old answers.  

No matter how comfortable a person is with their thought and religious position, it is possible that when disease or accidents or warfare or crime happen, we can suddenly be gripped by big terrors or little niggling fears.  We may find comfort in some of the same rituals and practices and words that previously comforted people.  We may find comfort in modifications of what was done before and we may well find new ideas, new words and new methods to face doubts and confusion, loss and pain.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Arguments and reasoning

When I listen to a discussion of logical reasoning, I get the feeling that what I am hearing is not very related to the ideas and mental experience of many people.  

    All men are mortal.

    Socrates is a man

    Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

Maybe so, but those who like the fellow don't want him to die.  They are hoping he doesn't die for a long time.  Meanwhile, those who don't like the man and his endless questioning are hoping he kicks the bucket real soon.

So, already we can see the liking and the disliking.  We can see timing involved: Can he postpone dying for a long time, like 60 years?  Can he hurry it up and expire soon, like tomorrow?

Besides, when my boss or my hero says he hopes Socky lasts a long time, and I like my boss and my hero, too, I decide I hope the old questioner lasts another century, too.  Mortal, schmortal, I am in with the supporters.  Argument, schmargument, I don't want him to die and I am going to moan and groan if he does, just as loudly and with the same heartfelt sounds as the other mourners.

The philosophers and the logicians and the mathematicians discuss valid inferences but if my cousin is on the side of those in favor of the Gadfly drawing his last breath, I support heroic measures to sustain his life.  I have never liked my cousin and what he likes, I don't.  

Oh, wait a minute.  Is Socrates that old guy who hangs around the Acropolis muttering about virtue and slave boys?  Oh, I thought you meant that other guy, the one my cousin hates and my boss likes.  That man's not Socrates?  Oh, forget the whole thing, then.  I don't care one way or another.  I am not involved.  Not my problem.

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