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If you were to believe David Meade, a self-described “specialist in research and investigations,” this will be my last blog post. That is because he has said that today – Sept. 23, 2017 – the world will end. Or begin to end.

Someone predicts the end of the world every year. This particular prediction is based on a sign prophesied in the Book of Revelation 12:1 — a constellation – will reveal itself in the skies over Jerusalem. This signals the beginning of the end of the world. A month later we will enter a seven-year tribulation period. The eclipse last month was also a sign.

But Meade (who has published many books on strange topics) and others have claimed that a planet called Nibiru/Planet X (NASA says no such planet exists) is headed toward Earth and when it passes us later this year we can expect earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves and other tragedies.

There have been several earthquakes and some terrible hurricanes the past month. Meade predicted all this would happen earlier, but he revised the date to today. I suspect he may revise it again tomorrow.

 

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bildungsroman shirt

Wear your coming of age proudly

The word bildungsroman showed up in an article I was reading.  It is a German word that you are only likely to encounter in a literature class. It describes a novel of formation, education, or culture. In English, we are more likely to call a novel or film like this a “coming-of-age” story.

Generally, these are stories of youth, but reading it now much later in my life got me wondering about when coming-to-age ends. In some ways even with six decades passed, I still feel like one of those protagonists.

The typical young protagonist is a sensitive, perhaps a bit naïve, person who goes in search of answers to life’s questions. They believe that these experiences will result in the answers. Supposedly, this happens in your twenties, but I don’t know if I have finished this journey yet. I suspect I am not alone in having this unfinished feeling.

Young adult novels certainly deal with this, but so do literary novels whose authors would not want the YA label stamped on their book’s spine. These are good novels to teach. They often focus on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood and character change is very important.

Scanning my bookshelves I see lots of books that fall into this category, from The Telemachy in Homer’s Odyssey from back in 8th century BC, to the Harry Potter series. I would include that early novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding,  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, Lord of the Flies by Aldous Huxley and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

When I taught middle school and high school, teaching The Outsiders, Romeo and Juliet, The Pigman, To Kill a Mockingbird and other bildungsroman works just seemed like the right places to spend time with my students.

In our western society, legal conventions have made certain points in late adolescence or early adulthood (most commonly 18-21) when a person is “officially” given certain rights and responsibilities of an adult. But driving a car, voting, getting married, signing contracts and buying alcohol are not the big themes of bildungsroman novels. Society and religion have even created ceremonies to confirm the coming of age.

I’ve passed all of those milestones, but I still feel like I haven’t arrived.

Charles Dickens wrote in David Copperfield, “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” We are all the protagonists of our own lives. But hero…  I’m not so sure.

Since I am still coming of age, I am a sucker for films and television live in that world of transition.  If I was teaching a course on Bildungsroman Cinema, I might include Bambi, American Graffiti,  The Breakfast Club, Stand by Me,  The Motorcycle Diaries, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Boyhood, and Moonlight. I could include many other “teen” films of lesser quality.

On television, series like The Wonder Years, Freaks and Geeks, Malcolm in the Middle, and The Goldbergs are all ones that deal with coming of age. They are also all family sitcoms. Coming-of-age has a lot to do with family. And it can be funny as well as tragic. It’s good materials for books and media because it has all that plus relationships, sex and love. On the visual side, it means physical changes that you can actually see, while the internal growth is often hidden and slow to catch up with physical growth.

I have read plenty of things that contend that adolescence is being prolonged and therefore adulthood and coming-of-age is being delayed. The new Generation Z cohort is supposedly an example of this. I have also read about the Boomerang Generation. This is a very Western and middle class phenomenon and the term is applied to young adults who choose to share a home with their parents after previously living on their own. They boomeranging back to their parents’ residence.

I remember reading about the “Peter Pan syndrome” which was a pop-psychology concept of an adult who is socially immature. It is not a condition you’ll find in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a specific mental disorder.

In Aldous Huxley’s 1962 novel Island, a character refers to men who are “Peter Pans” as “boys who can’t read, won’t learn, don’t get on with anyone, and finally turn to the more violent forms of delinquency.” He uses Adolf Hitler as an archetype of this phenomenon.

Do some people never come of age? How old were you the last time someone told to “grow up” in some way or another?

Huxley’s Peter Pans are a problem, but what about people who are quite mature and adult but still are in search of answers to life’s questions and the experiences that might result in the answers? What’s the name for that syndrome?

At one time, when we were people more connected to the natural world, many people felt particularly connected to certain animals. Nowadays, most of us spend a good portion of our days inside homes, building and cars and disconnected from the natural world and from the animals that live there.

You may feel a special connection to your pets, but that is not what “spirit animals” were all about at one time. Shamans and others in all cultures have found an importance of spirit animals. Sometimes these animals were seen as guides, or, as totems.

They are animal that are part of our souls or that can lead us to further spiritual growth.

I was told that wolves are probably one of the most misunderstood of all wild animals. Many believe and perceive them as cold-blooded killers, but they are described by scientists as friendly, intelligent and with many positive social traits, such as being gregarious. Wolves mate for life. Males are good fathers and quite playful.

I learned about them from a group of Native Americans many years ago. In a ceremony and series of weekend activities, participants attempted to find their spirit animal(s).  For me, that turned out to be the wolf and the rabbit. I had already felt a connection to rabbits, so that made sense. Though I had not felt any connection to wolves, they seemed like a pretty cool animal to have as a spirit guide. Of course, as I was told, those two together are predator and prey and that meant some conflict in myself.

All earth’s creatures from mammal to insect can be spirit animals. Some participants in that weekend were not thrilled to have a mouse or a bat be their spirit guide. One woman was very excited to have a dragonfly as her spirit guide. A buffalo seems like a manly totem animal, but one guy who got the butterfly was not thrilled.

The best way to find a spirit guide is to go outside and encounter your spirit animal, but that is not an experience that is available to most of us. You may feel some connection to a panda or penguin, but I suspect the chances of you meeting one outside of a zoo are pretty slim.

As some websites will tell you, perhaps as a city dweller, a rat or cockroach might be your guide. Neither sounds like a good animal guide, but consider the rat’s tenacity and cleverness. Consider how the cockroach is able to survive under almost any conditions and has adapted to living with people very well – even if people haven’t adapted as well.

Technically, finding your animal totem is not the same as recognizing a spirit guide. The totem animal is much more intuitive and personal. I was told the rabbit was my totem and the wolf was my guide.

Some suggestions for revealing these animals (besides a  spirit walk or journey into nature) involve using dreams and meditation.

It is 2017 and we are not only disconnected from nature, we are connected to technology. The two worlds seem at odds. But I will say that there are websites that claim to be able to help you find your spirit animals. (see below)  That is not the true path, but if it leads you to a better path or aids you in exploring your inner self, all the better.

As with the tarot, runes and other systems, I view all these as ways to examine yourself from another perspective. Nothing magical here. Closer to therapy than new age mysticism.

Some sites to explore:
https://www.trustedtarot.com/spirit-guides/spirit-animals/
http://www.spiritanimal.info
https://whatismyspiritanimal.com – explains my rabbit spirit in this way, and my totem wolf
A shamanistic view of the wolf appears at http://www.shamanicjourney.com/

It’s Labor day weekend. Summer is not over but many people mark an unofficial end of summer with this weekend. Schools in the northern part of the U.S. head back to school and colleges start the fall semester. Families are less likely to go on vacations or even head to the beach for a weekend.

I see from my blog stats that people are once again clicking on past posts about autumn and even those that discuss the weather lore for predicting the coming winter.

I hope you will continue to enjoy summer weather for a few months, no matter what the calendar tells you. Southern hemisphere readers can really look forward to summer.

Did you know that according to the “meteorological calendar” autumn begins today, September 1, for those of us in the northern hemisphere?  The meteorological calendar uses our Gregorian calendar and splits up the four seasons into three clean month blocks to make it easier for forecasting and comparing seasonal statistics.  That makes spring March, April, May; Summer: June, July, August; Autumn: September, October, November; Winter: December, January, February.

Most of us stick to the astronomical calendar which tells us that September 22 is the start of autumn. That is when the autumnal equinox, when night and day are roughly equal length, arrives.

One of the many signs that summer is moving into autumn is the migrations of species to warmer areas.

Monarch on rough blazing star. Photo by Debbie Koenigs/USFWS.

In mid-August, I started to see some adult monarchs who are partway through their lifecycle heading south in their autumn migration.

According to the USFWS, these monarchs are different from their parents, grandparents and great grandparents who completed their life cycle in four weeks. Those monarch migrated north, resulting in four generations this summer. The ones we are seeing are members of the generation that migrates south, often called the monarch “super generation.”

It’s about 3,000 miles to Mexico guided by the sun. They do about 50 miles a day. These delicate creatures sometimes ride thermal air currents and can be up a mile high.

What triggers their migration? They are not so different from other creatures – including people – who consciously or unconsciously look for signs around them that the seasons are changing.  The monarch butterflies sense the decreasing day length and temperatures and even the aging milkweed and other nectar sources triggers the birth of the super generation and their migration.

These super monarchs live eight times longer than their parents and grandparents. That is still only 8 months, but they will travel 10 times farther.

They will conserve energy by storing fat in both the caterpillar and butterfly life stages. They will wait to lay their 700 eggs until spring.

Monarch on swamp milkweed

Monarchs are totally dependent on milkweed. Plant some! Don’t pull out the milkweed plants! The plant is their nursery for the caterpillars who only eat this plant, and the flowers are a nectar source for adults. Their population has decreased significantly over the last 20 years.

There are projects to improve habitat for pollinators, including monarchs, like planting native milkweed and nectar plants that are local to your area. Gardening organically minimizes your impacts on pollinators and their food plants. Become a citizen scientist and monitor monarchs in your area. Educate others about pollinators, conservation, and how they can help. Learn how you can play a role in reversing the population decline and save the monarch.

Dream lucidity means that while you are dreaming, you are aware that you are dreaming. There is a chance that it has happened to you. But there is a better chance that you have not had a “lucid dream.”

So, does this seem familiar? You are in the middle of a normal dream and suddenly realize that they are dreaming. This type actually has a name: a dream-initiated lucid dream.

I have had this type of dream twice. And despite trying to initiate a lucid dream, I have not been able to force one to occur though there are lots of suggested ways to make a lucid dream more likely.

An even rarer and odder type is called a wake-initiated lucid dream. That occurs when you go from a normal waking state directly into a dream state, with no apparent lapse in consciousness.

There are references to this phenomenon in the ancient Greek writings of Aristotle. He wrote that:  “often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream.”   I question the “often” part of his statement, but clearly this is something that we have observed for a very long time.

The term ‘lucid dream’ to describe the phenomenon was coined by Dutch psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden in his 1913 article “A Study of Dreams.”

There is no way to force yourself to have a lucid dream, but there are methods that are said to make it more likely. I have written before about lucid dreams and I have tried all the methods I have read about.

One suggestion, which I have followed for many years, is to keep a dream journal. I keep my beside my bed and a few times a week I have a dream that remains clear when I awaken and I write it down. 99.9% of those dreams are not lucid. The journal is supposed to train you to remember more of your dreams. We all know that dreams fade very quickly if we don’t review them when we are awake by writing them down or telling them to others. I have also tried using a voice recorder to eliminate the time that writing takes. I have had dreams fade away while I am writing them down.

I have also been told that repeating a phrase such as “I will be aware that I’m dreaming” before you fall asleep. The official name for this technique is “Mnemonic Induction to Lucid Dreaming” (MILD). This is also a way to turn on awareness of your dreaming. Another awareness reality check is to stare at their hands for a few minutes before they go to sleep.

Increasing your ability to have lucid dreams is part of  the Tibetan Buddhist practice of dream Yoga, and the ancient Indian Hindu practice of Yoga nidra.

Neuroscientists are also interested in lucid dreaming as a way to study differences in brain activities while waking and sleeping. I read about a study in which researchers triggered lucid dreaming using low-power electrical currents of specific frequencies applied directly to the head. That is not a method most of us can access – and personally I wouldn’t want to try it.

Lucid dreaming is not without risk. People who are not mentally stable should probably consult with a doctor before experimenting.

All of experience some sleep paralysis during the REM cycle of dreaming. That sounds bad but it is a good thing as it prevents you from physically acting out your dreams. You don’t want to leap off your bed while asleep when you’re dreaming about jumping off a dock into the water. If while lucid dreaming you are in that  half-dreaming and half-waking state, you may feel awake but be in a kind of sleep paralysis.

For myself, the two times that I experienced a lucid dream state they were uninitiated. It just happened. Both times it was during a recurring dream. In one instance (which I wrote about “pre-lucidity” two years ago), I had a dream about walking down a particular street, stopping at a home and walking up the steps and knocking on the door. I had that dream three times before. The fourth time I had the dream I thought while I stood at that door that “This is a dream and I need to keep knocking until someone answers.” I did that and I finally met the person behind the door. It was someone I know, and I wrote as much about the dream as I could recall in my journal, but I still have no interpretation of its meaning.

canister

Antimatter canister from ‘Angels and Demons’

The Writers Almanac got me thinking this week about antimatter and the positron. If that seems a strange topic for a writing site, then you need to consider all of the fictional uses of antimatter in literature and popular entertainment.

Science fiction writers like Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick are a few of the many who have played around with this scientific discovery. The British television series Doctor Who used it for a propulsion system. That sentient android, Data, from Star Trek: The Next Generation has a positronic brain that gives him powerful computational capabilities. In Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, the Illuminati try to destroy Vatican City using the explosive power of a canister of pure antimatter.

In physics, the idea that there may exist particles and matter that are exact opposites of the matter that surrounds us goes back to the late 19th century. It is difficult to grasp the idea that there are mirror-image anti-atoms for all our known atoms. take that idea bigger and there would be whole anti-solar systems.

And what if in those solar systems the matter and antimatter might meet? They would annihilate one another.

In 1932, American physicist Carl Anderson discovered the first physical evidence that antimatter was more than just an idea. Anderson was photographing and tracking the passage of cosmic rays through a cloud chamber, a cylindrical container filled with dense water vapor, lit from the outside, and built with a viewing window for observers. When individual particles passed through the sides of the container and into the saturated air, they would leave spiderweb tracks of condensation, like the vapor trails of miniscule airplanes, each type of particle forming a uniquely shaped trail. Anderson noticed a curious pattern — a trail like that of an electron, with an exactly identical, but opposite curve — an electron’s mirror image and evidence of an anti-electron.

He took a now famous photograph of the event and in it a particle is seen approaching the metal plate , and when it hits the plate, it loses energy but continues to curve in the direction appropriate for a positively charged electron. He later called it a positron.

He had discovered antimatter. The discovery earned him a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1936 (at the age of 31 he was the youngest person to be so honored).

Antiprotons were discovered in 1955, and the antineutron was discovered the following year. In 1985, scientists created the first anti-atoms. And other antiparticles, such as antiprotons and antineutrons, have been discovered.

These discoveries led to speculation on its practical use. In Star Trek, it forms the basis of high energy propulsion systems. So far, the amount of antimatter so far created on Earth is orders of magnitude short of what would be needed to power a spacecraft.

Back in the 1940s, biochemist and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov took up the newly discovered particle and made it the means for his fictional “positronic brain.” Made of platinum and iridium, it was his way of  imparting humanlike consciousness to the robots in his story collection I, Robot.

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