“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau


I was talking to my friend Steve last weekend and, as is often the case, we went off into lofty heights where ideas constellate. He was telling me about a new “social contract” he was investigating. That sent me back to Rousseau, of whom I have only a wisp of a classroom memory.

Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (born in Geneva in 1712) was intrigued by an essay contest sponsored by the Academy of Dijon in 1749 that asked “Has the revival of the arts and sciences done more to corrupt or to purify morals?”

Rousseau started on an essay that he would title “A Discourse on the Arts and Sciences” which ended up making him “a writer almost against my will. …The remainder of my life and all my subsequent misfortunes were the inevitable result of this moment of aberration.”

His essay won first prize. He argued that the advances of science and art had been harmful to humanity by consolidating power in the hands of governments and creating an atmosphere of competition and fear between citizens.

He went on to write many more philosophical works. His most famous is The Social Contract (1762). The essence of his argument, which is all I retained from any study I had of his work, is a bummer. He said that the natural condition of humanity is to be brutal and lawless. It is only through an agreed “social contract” of what constitutes a good society that humans are able to rise above their base nature.

Sometimes we rise. Sometimes we fall.

Visit Steve’s hibernating blog, The Constellating Image , and tell him to wake it up.


This past week, on June 27, astronomers and space enthusiasts were watching online the first ever live observation of a planet outside of our Solar System as it passes across the face of its home star (transit).

This exoplanet is named TrES-2b, but is nicknamed the much sexier Dark Knight which makes most people think of a modern-day Batman.

I probably post more about space than many followers of this blog care to read, but that last really unexplored frontier is so mysteriously interesting. I can’t fully explain this fascination which, to me, seems so naturally human. You can hear something of this interest in science by a non-scientist if you listen to this this episode of On Being, “Mysteries of an Expanding Universe.”
Mario Livio works with discoveries made from the Hubble Telescope and studies dark energy, extrasolar planets, and white dwarf stars. He’s fascinated, as am I,  with the enduring mystery of mathematics and cosmic puzzles hidden in the language of science.  Is God a mathematician?

An exoplanet or extrasolar planet is a planet that orbits a star other than the Sun, a stellar remnant, or a brown dwarf. Nearly 2000 exoplanets have been discovered.  This Dark Knight is the darkest exoplanet yet discovered. It is so nicknamed because it only reflects 1% of the light that falls on it.

Distances and numbers in space can’t really be grasped by most humans. Orbiting only about three million miles out from its star, the Jupiter-size gas giant planet is heated to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (980 degrees Celsius).  Jupiter is extremely cold, the Dark Knight is hot enough to vaporize many metals and molecules.

TrES-2 system is a binary star system, which should resonate with Star Wars fans as two rising Suns recalls Tatooine.

I am a cage, in search of a bird.  ~ Franz Kafka

Today is the birthday of Franz Kafka. He has acquired a reputation of being a rather depressing person over the years. I can’t imagine that most people who know about him or his books would imagine a happy birthday party for Franz. That’s why I was pleased to hear Garrison Keillor read this morning on his Writer’s Almanac podcast a description of Kafka that goes against that downer bio that is usually attached to him.

Though there were definitely some bad days for Franz, he was a productive and well-liked employee at an insurance company. His job was to prevent workplace accidents in the lumber industry. He was a big fitness advocate because he had suffered from a series of illnesses (some probably psychosomatic). He loved being outdoors in the fresh air. He wrote, “I row, ride, swim, lie in the sun. Therefore my calves are good, my thighs not bad, my belly will pass muster, but my chest is very shabby.”

Even though Kafka was suffering excruciating pain from tuberculosis, having just turned 40, he finally found real love and happiness in the last year of his life, with a woman named Dora Diamant. She wrote later: “Everything was done with laughter. Kafka was always cheerful. He liked to play; he was a born playmate, always ready for some fun.”

Today, I’d like to think of that Kafka.

His surreal, dark, pessimistic stories are what came from a childhood ruled by a tyrannical father, illnesses, guilt and anxiety. He described himself as “peevish, miserable, silent, discontented, and sickly.”

I wrote a few years ago about an odd little biography of Franz Kafka, Kafka, done as a graphic novel by R. Crumb. I said then that in some ways he reminds me of Edgar Allen Poe – everyone seems to know about him, even if they haven’t actually read his stories or read the whole of his life.

There is the term “Kafkaesque” used generically to describe a situation that is surreal or odd.  If people know one story by him (again, often without having actually read it), it would be “The Metamorphosis.” That’s the story of a man wakes up to find he has changed into a cockroach.

That’s the story that introduced me to Kafka. I went on to his other short stories and then to the very challenging novels like The Trial.  My first reading of that novel was a failure. I was a sophomore in high school and it was too much for me. I read it again four years later for a college course and I saw the Orson Welles’ film version and moved on to his books The Castle and Amerika.

I learned that he was born in Prague (then Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic) which made me think of my grandparents. My father’s family was from there. My mother’s family from that Austro-Hungarian Empire. Some connection perhaps.

Dora was a 25-year-old kindergarten teacher and she became his lover. He would not marry her because he felt his worsening tuberculosis meant she would only become a widow soon.

He died June 3, 1924. His last request to his friend and literary executor, Max Brod, was that “Everything I leave behind me… in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others’), sketches, and so on, [is] to be burned unread.”

Brod had told Kafka that he wouldn’t burn them and he didn’t. He arranged for the publication of most of Kafka’s work in his possession and it was well received.

I like this modern-day, colorized version of the portrait of him that you can find online because he looks like someone who might work in your office or ride the train with you every morning. I would have liked to have coffee with him


secondsWe had a leap second tonight. It was the Y2K of the year. At 7:59:59 p.m. ET tonight an extra second was added officially so that we could sync up our devices with the Earth’s slowing rotation.

There was some fear that this 61-second minute might do some bad things and make computer systems go haywire. Websites crashing, financial market software going crazy…

It has happened before. We had a leap second in 2012 and a bunch of big sites did go down – Reddit, Yelp, LinkedIn, FourSquare, Gawker, StumbleUpon and Qantas airlines.

But we learned lessons. Google came up with a solution after a 2005 leap second screwed up some of its systems: gradually add a couple of milliseconds to servers’ clocks throughout the day when a leap second is to occur.

Reports of crashes could still appear, but my quick scan of news sites didn’t show anything.

How did you spend your extra second tonight?

moon beach

This July of 2015 we will see two Full Moons.  The first is on July 1st and another is just able to squeeze into the month on July 31st. That second one means that it will be referred to as a “Blue Moon.”

We have a Full Moon every 29.5 days, but since every month but February has at least 30 days in it, there is the potential for two full moons in a month. Though not a scientific term, that second full moon in a given month is popularly known as a Blue Moon. The expression “once in a blue moon” comes from the rarity, but not the impossibility, of the occurrence of a second Full Moon in the same calendar month. Color has nothing to do with it.

I have written about the July Full Moon as the Buck Moon and the Moon When Bucks Are in Velvet and as the Corn Moon. Since we have two Full Moons to cover this month, I think I will turn to the many American Indian names for the Moons of this month. Amongst the names I have found are:

Abenaki –Grass Cutter Moon
Algonquin –Squash Are Ripe Moon
Cherokee –Ripe Corn Moon
Choctaw –Little Harvest Moon, Crane Moon
Comanche –Hot Moon
Cree –Moon When Ducks Begin to Molt
Haida –Salmon Moon
Hopi –Moon of the Homedance
Kalapuya –Camas Ripe (the bulb of the camas lily was a staple food to the Kalapuya)
Lakota –Moon When The Chokecherries Are Black
Shoshone –Summer Moon

I opted to use this year the Dakota Sioux name, Moon of the Middle Summer, and the Ponca’s similar Middle of Summer Moon for this first July Full Moon. If you are thinking that it is not the middle but the beginning of summer, you need to read about the original idea of midsummer.

For people who once totally relied on plants and crops to survive, this Corn Moon was a time when some tribes in the southwest (like the Cherokee) were ready for “roasting ears of corn” and for others a time of the “green corn” dance and festival.  Colonists in the northeast called it the Corn Tassel Moon and the Mohawk called this a Time of Much Ripening and the Potawatomi named this the Moon of the Young Corn. For all of those northern groups, this Moon was a calendar sign that the corn was approaching harvest. A common expression was that corn should be “knee high by the fourth of July.”



Science doesn’t have any interest in an afterlife. Unprovable. Then there’s Robert Lanza. He has a theory of biocentrism that says that death is an illusion created by our consciousness.

Take that a bit further.  He says he has evidence – via quantum physics – of an existence beyond the grave.

Lanza, from Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina, is a scientist in the fields of regenerative medicine and biology. The biocentric universe views biology as the central driving science in the universe. He proposed the theory in 2007.  Life creates the universe rather than the other way around.

If you accept biocentrism, then the current theories of the physical world do not work. They will only work if you place biology before the other sciences to produce a “theory of everything.”  This is the century of biology.

This video segment if from the film What The Bleep Do We Know!?: Down The Rabbit Hole. It illustrates the Double-Slit Experiment. Even with this simplified explanation, it is a tough concept to grasp. Give it a viewing.

In the experiment, scientists shoot a particle at two slits in a barrier and they observe that the particle behaves like a bullet and goes through one slit or the other.

But, if a person doesn’t watch the particle, it acts like a wave. That means it can go through both slits at the same time.

Matter and energy can display characteristics of both waves and particles. The behavior of the particle changes based on a person’s perception and consciousness. This is not something only Lanza believes. It is quantum physics.

That is strange enough, but it leads you to also theorizing that everything which can possibly happen is occurring at some point across multiverses. (Theoretical physicists believe that there is infinite number of universes with different variations of people, and situations taking place, simultaneously.)

So, there is no “death” as we generally conceive of it.  I’m not sure that will make you sleep any easier at night.

Look at the image at the top of this post. What color is it? Do you see blue? Your eyes or your brain could be altered and it would be red. What is its true color? Does it have a true color? Our consciousness makes sense of the world, and it can be altered to change this interpretation.

To a biocentric believer space and time don’t behave in the ways our consciousness tell us it does. Space and time are  mental constructs. What you see could not be present without your consciousness,’ explained Lanza. ‘Our consciousness makes sense of the world.’

If you are thinking that Robert Lanza is some kind of fringe science oddball, you’re wrong. He is pretty mainstream. He was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. I started reading his book, Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe. His theory is simple yet radical. If we lived in the 15th century, the idea that the world was a big, round rock and not flat would have sounded like total nonsense. [see comment]

Death? Lanza says that when we die our life becomes a “perennial flower that returns to bloom in the multiverse.” That is an afterlife. Not the kind you had imagined.  Can you wrap your mind around that idea?


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