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In a  column by Omid Safi, he says that “Driving itself is a spiritual experience for me.”  That got me thinking.

“What else do we do that has become so mundane, so ordinary, so boring? What else can be opened up, like a sunroof, to reveal the luminous inside? What else is there in my daily life that could stand to have its sunroof opened up and the windows lowered?

What else is there in your life, friends, that could stand to have sun shining down on it with the winds swirling around, connecting you to the core of your being, your friends, your neighbors, your beloved, the soil under your feet, and the stars above?”

I don’t share that feeling. I think that when I was much younger I did. I loved cars as a kid. I read car magazines. I built model cars. I watched car racing on TV. I could identify almost any car driving past me.

Now, all the cars are interchangeable to me. I don’t read about cars, except for checking Consumer Reports when it’s time to get a new one. I want one that gets me from Point A to Point B economically and without repairs. Almost any new car will have more options than I really need.

“Spiritual” in this context is about things affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things. The word is often tied to religion and the sacred, divine, or holy.

But Safi’s quote above and that spiritual feeling doesn’t come from cars. It comes from driving. Although driving an older Toyota Corolla is certainly a different car experience from driving a new Tesla, I wonder how much it changes this spiritual aspect once you have been on the road for a few hours.

I have seen writing about the spiritual connection you might have to the car itself, but it is not a connection I have ever had to the vehicle. I loved my first car, a 1971 VW Beetle, which I drove for 11 years, but I never felt any spiritual connection to it. But I suspect many Corvette owners might disagree with me.

The book Earth Angels: Engaging the Sacred in Everyday Things by Shaun McNiff caught my eye n a shelf because the cover has an Edward Hopper painting. He would disagree with my soulless car theory, as he believes that we need to honor the souls of cars, and also furniture, rooms, computers and other ordinary objects.  He didn’t convince me about “soulful materialism” but I’m sure he has his followers.

I’m also not sure if everyone would agree, but I find being the driver and being a passenger on a drive makes the entire experience different. I find being a passenger much more spiritual. You need to be able to let the mind wander. You need to be able to really see what you are passing. Of course, this eliminates the Romantic notion of the solo road trip which I suppose is another level of spiritual experiences.

I still make mix CDs specifically for road trips with songs that resonate for me when I am driving and sometimes for where I am driving. One of the best experiences I have had with a friend was when on a long drive we sang along with almost the entire Simon and Garfunkel song catalog. Driving on the New Jersey Turnpike while they sing “America” click something in my brain.

The other factor is where you are driving. I have no love for the mundane city driving experience and I doubt that there is much spirituality involved. Any writing I have seen about driving that leans to the Romantic side is probably about open highways and wide vistas. Speed play a part, but it can also be a low-speed drive along a twisting coast highway.

The New York Times had a piece about a retrospective of Stephen Shore’s photographs, many of which are his cross-country color photos (collected in the Uncommon Places). The Times asked some American writers to create short fictions or comment on some of Shore’s photographs.

One piece, “Contemplating Geologic Time While Eating a Filet-O-Fish Under a Cloudless Sky,” by Charles Yu which was inspired by  the photo “U.S. 89, Arizona, June 1972.”

“Don McLean ON FM radio, windows rolled all the way down. In an old car in a new country. Midday’s brutal, blue.

He kills the engine, gets out for some air. Opens the door and the potential energy of the fight quickly dissipates, carried away from them along with their voices, words spoken a minute ago propagating waveforms of fear, of love, tumbling down into the canyon, the historical event of their first argument now traveling outward in all directions to the ends of the universe, sounds they made halving themselves again and again, until somewhere, hundreds of feet below, they break against the rocks in a wash of ambient vibration…”

Yu’s piece reminds me that I would include the road stops when driving as part of the driving experience – the scenic outlook, the classic diner, the odd, unnamed general store or the gas station with one pump in the middle of nowhere.

If you look at a dream interpretation site of book, you will probably find that a dream about driving a car is supposed to be about being in control of where you are going. Driving is taking responsibility for your actions. And in that dream symbolism way, being a passenger in a car might mean you are allowing someone else to control you or your life; or you feel you have no control over your life, and that someone is  “taking you for a ride.” I actually don’t recall any driving dreams (and I am someone who keeps dream journals).

I am much more likely to find spirituality in a walk in the woods than in a drive, but I cannot dismiss the driving experience because I have had those kinds of experiences too.  What about you?

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Runes are the letters in a set of related alphabets known as runic alphabets, which were used to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet.

Or maybe the runes (Proto-Norse: ᚱᚢᚾᛟ (runo), Old Norse: rún)  were not used as just a simple writing system, but as magical signs, charms and for divination. Their history is not entirely clear.

The word “rune” is taken to mean something secret, hidden or whispered and suggests that the runes may have originally been considered esoteric, or restricted to an elite group.

When rune stones are used for divination – a way to predict one’s future – it is often in a set of 24 stones with the ancient alphabetic symbols.

Runes may be one of the oldest pagan methods used for divination.They were used across northern Europe, the British Isles, Scandinavia, and Iceland from about 100 B.C.E. There are some Some runic inscriptions that have been also found in America which some people say supports the theory that Vikings were the first Europeans to discover America.

For me, runes, like tarot cards and other divination methods, rely on the reader’s intuition and self-knowledge or knowledge of the subject.

Guidebooks to using the runes give simple meanings for each symbol and alphabetic/phonetic values. Each symbol is also supposed to have spiritual or divine properties. Most have connections to nature forces and each rune has a story related to a Norse God.

When people use the runes, they seek advice. You state your current condition and then ask your specific question. Like almost every other divination tools, the reading can sometimes be obscure. There are answers, but the details rely on further intuition for interpreting the runes.

I was taught to draw three runes from the pouch while thinking of or saying aloud your question or in what area you seek advice.  Your hand should sense which stones to draw from the pouch, one by one.  Similar to a three-card tarot spread, the first rune addresses a past situation that influences your question. The second rune is an answer to a present situation, and the last one will answer to a future situation.

I don’t think this is “fortunetelling” or seeing into the future. A reading is the time to analyze your present, your path and likely outcomes. To believe you can see the future means you believe the future is a fixed phenomenon. I don’t believe that. I believe it changes with all of our actions. No matter what the runes say, the path can be changed.

As an example, the Rune of Fertility and Growth is named Berkanan and it looks like the letter B. It is associated with the birch tree, which is a tree that grows rapidly. The color for this rune is dark green. Its element is Earth from which the tree grows.

Berkanan refers to many things depending on the context of the question:  renewal, regeneration, purification, healing, recovery, the family and the home, the enjoyment of sexual relations, fertility, and birth.

If you were asking advice about pursuing a new job path, Berkanan can mean “birth” in a literal or symbolic way, such as the successful start of any new idea or enterprise. If it was the first rune, it would mean one that occurred in the past that impacts the current situation. It would make sense as the second stone, since it is your current situation, but then it would not really bring any insight to the current situation.

The rune can be revealed in reverse and then it would be interpreted as a lack of growth, a reduction in stature, a decline, perhaps a loss in business and not a good time for new ventures.

On those occasions when I have consulted the runes, I have never thought I was communicating with a spirit, a god or God.  I think I was given some suggestions about ways to view some situation that was unclear to me through the lenses of my past, present and possible future.

I know that some religious people are opposed to forms of divination. I understand that. But the runes are to me closer to a session with a therapist than a religious experience.

 

Right off, I am a big fan of the Seinfeld TV show.  I have heard  many times the description of it as “a show about nothing.” The show’s original premise was that it was a show about  how Jerry Seinfeld, a standup comic, uses the everyday things in his life as material for his comedy. It opens with a bit of standup and for some episodes that bit ties into the episode.

Most episodes have at least three intertwining plots. For example, in episode 51, “The Contest,” George confesses that “My mother caught me.” They never say  “masturbating” in the episode, but its clear.  George says he’ll never do “that” again. The gang is skeptical and Jerry, Kramer and George make a $100 bet to see who can abstain the longest. Elaine wants in on the contest, but has to put in $150, because the guys claim that it easier for women to abstain.

We switch to Kramer’s infatuation with a woman in the apartment across the street who walks around in her apartment naked with the curtains open. He watches her, goes back to his place and returns to slap down his $100. “I’m out. I’m out of the contest.”

Switch to George visiting his mother because she was hospitalized after catching George in the act with her Glamour magazine earlier. His new attraction is watching the shadowy silhouettes of his mom’s attractive roommate getting a sponge bath from an attractive nurse.

Switch to Elaine at her gym when she finds out that John F. Kennedy, Jr. also uses the gym. She plots to meet up with him.

Jerry is frustrated because the woman he’s dating won’t have sex with him since she wants to remain a virgin.

All of them are unable to sleep – except for Kramer.

Elaine arranges to meet Kennedy outside Jerry’s apartment later. The thought of them hooking up is more than she can handle and she is the second person out of the contest.

Jerry’s virgin is finally ready for sex, but Jerry makes the mistake of mentioning the contest and she leaves in disgust. Elaine arrives believing Kennedy stood her up, but George tells her that Kennedy did come, but missed her and went with the virgin. They then see Kramer with the naked woman across the street.

So, who won the contest? Jerry or George?  Not revealed here. In the fifth-season episode “The Puffy Shirt”, George mentions that he “won a contest” in a conversation about masturbation, but in the series finale, he confesses that he cheated.

That’s a lot of nothing.

In Seinfeld‘s 43rd episode, things get meta. Jerry and George pitch a sitcom to television executives and George says (mostly because they have no real ideas to pitch) that it will be a show where “nothing happens.” It gets picked up and the show that they develop is what we know as Seinfeld, with a George, Elaine, Kramer and Jerry as himself.

A book about the series, Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything, has a lot to say about that nothing concept. People often point to the episode “The Chinese Restaurant” in season two.  The episode is about Jerry, Elaine and George (no Kramer) waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant. That’s it. Yes, George tries to use the pay phone (pre-mobile phones) and Jerry can’t place a woman that he is sure he has met before, but really they just wait and talk.

The episode is set in real time, without scene-breaks. NBC execs were not thrilled with it because it had no real storyline. C-creator/writer Larry David threatened to quit if the network forced major changes to the script. NBC gave in to production, but postponed broadcast to the near end of the season.

But if you really want to take a deep dive on Seinfeld nothingness, the video above by Evan Puschak (Nerdwriter) connects the show and its nothingness to 19th-century novelist Gustave Flaubert.

Apparently, in an 1852 letter, Flaubert wrote about his his ambition to write “a book about nothing, a book dependent on nothing external, which would be held together by the internal strength of its style.”  It may not have achieved all of that, but the novel was Madame Bovary.

If you really want to view Seinfeld as a show about nothing more literally, watch the video below which is an edit of moments from the series when nothing happens. Turn off the sound for a Zen of Seinfeld experience.

 

A Stop at Willoughby” is an episode from the first season of  the television series The Twilight Zone.  I watched that show with my parents as a kid, and I usually watched while hiding behind a pillow on our couch. Many episodes scared me. I remember “A Stop at Willoughby” and I’m sure I watched it a few more times in reruns.

In the episode, a businessman who is having a lousy time at work and at home, falls asleep on his train ride home. He wakes to find the train empty and stopped at a town called Willoughby – but it’s July 1888. It looks like a wonderfully peaceful place, but he is jerked awake and back into the present. He asks the conductor if he has ever heard of Willoughby, but the conductor says there is no such town on their route.

After another lousy work day, he falls asleep again on the train and finds himself in Willoughby again. This time, he gets off the train and is welcomed warmly by the people there.

The scene suddenly shifts back to the present and a train engineer is standing over the businessman’s body. The conductor tells him that the businessman shouted something about Willoughby and jumped off the train and was killed instantly.

The ending shocked me. His escape was suicide. To add a further shock to the ending, as his  body is loaded into a hearse, we see that the name of the funeral home is Willoughby & Son.

That episode was the first thing I thought of when I saw a story online about “haunted Willoughby, Ohio.” This town has a number of stories that would work as scripts for The Twilight Zone. For example, Willoughby Coal is supposed to have menacing apparitions that appear in its darkened windows. But the best known story is the one I came across online that centers on Willoughby Cemetery, where the Girl in Blue’s spirit supposedly stays unsatisfied near her grave.

Her story begins December 23, 1933. A young woman with auburn-hair and hazel-eyes gets off the Greyhound bus by herself in Willoughby. No one knew who she was or why she was there. She took a room at a local  boarding house, and the next morning she asked the owner about local church services and then went out into the town.

She was dressed entirely in blue. She walked through town, unknown, but saying hello to those she met and being welcomed by those she passed.

At the train station, according to witnesses, as a train rushed through the station she sprinted to the tracks and the train sent her body hurtling onto the gravel siding. Although she had no blood or visible wounds, she was dead of a fractured skull.

There was no identification in her purse, but she had a train ticket to Corry, Pennsylvania. “The Girl in Blue” became a local mystery. Had she committed suicide or was she trying to catch that train? Why had she made a stop in Willoughby?

People in town made donations for a headstone and flowers and this unknown person from somewhere else had 3,000 local residents attend her funeral service.

Her headstone reads “In Memory of the Girl in Blue, Killed by Train, December 24, 1933, Unknown but not Forgotten.”

For 60 years, she was a mystery. Then, the week before Christmas Eve in 1993, an article in the News Herald about the 60th anniversary of her death was seen by a real estate broker near Corry, Pennsylvania. He remembered the sale of a family farm and that one of the documents that finalized the sale of the farm was a signed affidavit filed by a son in 1985 that stated that his sister Josephine had died in Willoughby, Ohio on December 24, 1933.

The real estate brokers investigating had given The Girl in Blue a name. She was the daughter of Jacob and Catherine Klimczak, Polish immigrants who arrived in Pennsylvania in 1901. Her name was Josephine, but to her five sisters and three brothers, she was known as Sophie. In Willoughby, a second gravestone was added with both of her names.

Her gravesite is said to have strange orbs hovering nearby, and recordings of a disembodied female voice have been made at her grave; and the figure of a woman has been seen standing next to the headstone, dressed in blue.

Why did she make her own stop in Willoughby?  Did she commit suicide to escape her life? Is there some connection between The Girl in Blue and The Twilight Zone?

The Twilight Zone‘s creator, frequent writer and host narrated each episode and always told us that:

“There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call The Twilight Zone.”

 

I wrote last week about the legendary Bigfoot and I hesitated to write this weekend about more fringe science, but I have a longtime fascination with time travel and a story about a time traveler caught my attention this past week.

Let’s start out by saying this tale is very likely a hoax, but it captivated fans of time travel, the supernatural and the paranormal.

It started with an online post in November 2000 by someone who called himself Timetravel_0 but would come to be known as John Titor.

John Titor said he was a man from the future, who had been sent to the past (our present) to retrieve a portable computer in order to correct something that had happened in his future world.

John said he traveled back from 2036. He posted on the Art Bell BBS Forums. Art Bell is an American broadcaster and author who was the founder/host of the paranormal-themed radio program Coast to Coast AM and a companion show Dreamland.

John Titor’s posts ended in late March 2001 but a number of websites reproduced Titor’s posts and sometimes arranged them to create a kind of narrative.

Titor posted right off pictures of his time machine and its operations manual. As you would expect, Bell’s listeners hit him with lots of questions about why he was here and the physics of time travel. He did engage with others on the Bell forum and also on several other online sites.

IBM 5100

Titor claimed to be an American soldier based in Tampa, Florida in 2036. He had earlier been assigned to time-travel back to 1975 to retrieve an IBM 5100 computer. He said the 5100 was needed in order to debug various legacy computer programs in 2036. I haven’t dug deeper into this computer – which seems like an odd old technology that would be needed in the future – but others have commented that it may be a reference to the UNIX year 2038 problem. So, Titor was sent back two years before the problem would occur to get the old technology. The IBM 5100 was not a powerful computer and it ran the not very sophisticated APL and BASIC programming languages.

Now in 2000, Titor said he was visiting again for “personal reasons” which included collecting pictures lost in a future civil war and to visit his family.

Titor made a number of predictions – some vague and some specific – about coming events. he described life after a nuclear war, the breakup of the United States into five smaller sovereignties, and the assertion that CERN would discover the basis for time travel sometime around 2001, with the creation of miniature black holes.

Because some of his predictions have already passed and not occurred, people say it was all a hoax. Of course, there are believers that say that Titor or other time travelers have returned to correct things so that these tragedies did not occur.

One of Titor’s “predictions” (not really a prediction since he claimed to be telling us a future history) was of an upcoming civil war in the United States having to do with “order and rights.” He claimed it would begin in 2004 with civil unrest surrounding the presidential election of that year.

He didn’t seem to know that it would be the John Kerry vs. George W.Bush election. This civil conflict build and fully erupt by 2008. Of course, there was unrest during that period and foreign policy was the dominant theme throughout the election campaign, particularly Bush’s War on Terrorism and the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Titor was also big on alerting the public about the threat of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease spread through beef products, which might remind people of “Mad Cow” disease.

Titor said that UFOs were still a mystery in his time, but he thought that extraterrestrials might be travelers from much further into the future.

As a student of time travel, I wondered about all these interactions Titor was having in the past. Wasn’t he afraid he would change something disastrously? Had he seen Back to the Future? Didn’t he know what would happen to Marty McFly if he met himself in the past or stopped his parents from dating and getting married? hadn’t he heard of the Grandfather Paradox in which a person travels to the past and kills their own grandfather before the conception of their father or mother, which prevents the time traveler’s existence.

Titor was unconcerned. He claimed that the “Everett–Wheeler model of quantum physics,” better known as the many-worlds interpretation, is correct. In that model, every possible outcome of a quantum decision occurs in a separate “universe.” No worries about any grandfather paradox. You would be  killing a different grandfather in a different timeline.

By that model, the chances of everything happening someplace at sometime in the superverse are 100%. And so, maybe John Titor did travel back to 1975 and 2000.

On March 21, 2001, John Titor wrote that he would be returning to 2036, and he was never heard from again.

A book titled John Titor A Time Traveler’s Tale was compiled by John’s mother in our time using John’s posts and published as a 164 page paperback. It includes the black and white photos he posted of his time machine and its operations manual. It is now something of a rarity and it sells online for $130-$600. Not bad for a hoax.

John, if you read this, post a comment and give us an update.

http://www.johntitor.com

We can only pay attention to one thing at a time. For years, you have heard that we all need to multitask and you may have convinced yourself that you can do it it pretty well.

It’s not so bad to listen to music while you work – a distraction, but minimal. But add in checking your email and messages, watching a video on Facebook and all suffer.

The push to multitask is being reversed. We all know now that anything else you do while driving hurts your focus on driving and can be deadly. Listening to the radio, singing along or talking to a passenger may be tolerable distractions, but texting, looking at a screen for your audio settings, looking at the sites as they are passing, reading signs, studying the GPS map, drinking or eating, and fumbling in your pocket or pocketbook for your ringing phone are all very dangerous.

More and more research shows this to be true: We all like to think that we can multi-task and do all the tasks well, but we can’t. And when it comes to paying attention, who is better, men or women? Turns out, neither.

Here is a simple attention test. Watch this short video of two basketball teams, one wearing black and the other in white, passing basketballs between them and count the number of passes made by the white team.

Recent neuroscience research tells us that rather than doing tasks simultaneously well, what we might be good at is just being able to switch tasks quickly. But that stop/start process in the brain wastes time and degrades our focus on both tasks.

When you watched the video, how may passes did you see? Actually, the researchers didn’t care much about that part of this experiment known as the “gorilla test.” Psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons created the video to see how many people saw a woman wearing a gorilla suit walk onto the scene, thump her chest several times and then walk off. She is there in the middle of the video for about 9 seconds but only 50% of viewers spot the gorilla.

Why? Because when you are told to concentrate on one thing, your mind tends not to see other things. You were counting passes from one team and paid less attention to other things.

The video is not proof of our inability to multitask, but the psychologists call this effect “inattentional blindness.”

Daniel Simons says:
“Indeed, most of us are unaware of the limits of our attention—and therein lies the real danger. For instance, we may talk on the phone and drive because we are mistakenly convinced that we would notice a sudden event, such as a car stopping short in front of us.
Inattentional blindness does have an upside. Our ability to ignore distractions around us allows us to retain our focus. Just don’t expect your partner to be charitably disposed when your focus on the television renders her or him invisible.”

This shift in our attitudes toward multitasking probably tracks with an increased interest in many forms of mindfulness training, and an increase in the number of people identified as having attention deficit disorders. We know our attention is lousy. We are easily distracted. And most of us want to do something about the problem.

 

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Every day is an experiment.  Not all are a success. Yes, that’s where I’m at today. Not so long ago, but it already seems far away. Makerspace action. At the opening of the NJIT Makerspace. Every end is also a beginning.

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