Monthly Archives: January 2014

Tea and honey

It’s another bone-chilling day in New York. I look out the window and see a clear blue sky with bright sunshine bathing the ice and snow.  There are lots of chores that need to be done but it is so comfy inside my warm stone house.  How will I get motivated to get out there and do what needs to be done?  I’ve got it, a mug of hot tea with honey.


Good job Rosetta

Humans are amazing.

Spacecraft wakes, calls home

Scientists have flung a spacecraft 800 million kilometers at a comet.  Because of low power the spacecraft was put to sleep for three years.  Now, they have successfully reactivated it and soon it will dance around Comet 67P before sending a lander to the surface.

Talk about unbelievable…

Just think about how hard it is for a pitcher to throw a strike, or a quarterback to connect with a tight end.

It might be good to remember Rosetta the next time we come up against a difficult problem.

Early times

Can you imagine what it was like for early humans?  Pitch black night, so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face.  Frost or even ice and snow on the ground.  Predators lurking.  How did they possibly survive until the next day?

They must have slept fitfully.  Waking in the morning, they went out to seek food and water.  They solved problems that would stump contemporary humans.  In the end,   the unbroken chains they forged stretch across millenniums, from mitochondrial “Eve” to our mothers and sisters.

Does reading fiction help your brain?

Recently a flurry of articles came out that purport to describe how reading fiction improves the brain.

Brain Function “Boosted For Days After Reading a Novel” from slashdot

Your brain on fiction from the New York Times

It would be great if it was possible to measure “brain function” in a simple way and to be able to show that reading a novel causes an improvement in “brain function”.  Unfortunately reality is not this simple.  When one is reading a novel time passes.  Over time, a multitude of intervening variables might influence the dependent variable/s in question.

These studies are a perfect example of the limits of science.  Certain phenomena are too complex to fit neatly into a hypothesis or controlled experiment.  It is obvious to anyone who spends time reading good fiction that it is relaxing and beneficial in many ways.  For one thing, reading requires a person to carve a substantial amount of time out of each day and this alone might account for some of the benefits from reading.

In any event, why does there have to be a scientific explanation for something so pleasurable and so human?  Why do we need to pick it apart and dissect it?  However, if studies like this do encourage more people to read deeply then that is fine.

The magic of literature and the other arts is that they are mysterious.  There are some things in this universe that scientists will never poke, prod or measure.  Muses are one of these.

Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s short stories

I just finished a book of short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa.  This Japanese author committed suicide in 1927 after writing hundreds of poems and stories.  Some of his stories are so haunting that the images will be seared into your brain forever.  Rashomon is one of these.  It is almost as if the author is an omnipotent being hovering over the scenes providing a running commentary on medieval Japanese life.  After reading this slim volume, I do have one imperative.  I must try some yam gruel.


Life lessons from Turgenev

Just finished reading “First Love” by Ivan Turgenev, a short  book that was published in 1860.  Every young person should read this story.  It could serve as a training manual for the inevitable crises of passion that every young man and woman will go through at one time or another.

The most amazing thing about this book is the way it grabs the reader and pulls one into the mind of the main character, a sixteen year old boy who is hopelessly in love with a beautiful young princess, who just happens to be several years older.  Even though the result is predictable, the author creates a tension that is almost excruciating.