277 – Ephemera (I)

Posted on January 19, 2014 by


(Some reflections are not worth a full-throated blog, yet they contain small kernels for reflection – like plum kernels one rolls in one’s mouth while climbing a steep mountain on a hot day. I’ll post ephemera from time to time)


Red Guards apologize 50 years after the violence

“On August 18, 1966, members of the Red Guard gathered in Tiananmen Square for a rally that would set off a violent movement against so-called class enemies. Several members of the high school Red Guards would attain stardom on this day.

Just days before the Tiananmen gathering, on August 5, a tragedy initiated by the Red Guards happened at Beijing Normal University High School, where Song Binbin attended. Bian Zhongyun, the deputy headmaster and Communist Party Secretary of the school, was beaten to death by her students.

Song Binbin was one of the leaders of the Red Guards at the school. Shortly after the Cultural Revolution, Song Binbin started a new life in the U.S. Song Binbin was silent for decades. On January 13 2014, Song Binbin visited the site of the incident at Beijing Normal University High School. Before dozens audience of students and teachers, Song Binbin wept as she gave a speech on the violent events which occurred nearly 50 years ago, apologizing for her role.”[1]

This was not the gesture of an expatriate Chinese, who had been influenced by Western values. Former Red Guard Chen Xiaolu – the son of war hero Chen Yu – gave an apology last year in October, he said he was sorry for physically attacking teachers at the Beijing No. 8 Middle School.[2]

Dinosaurs grow in trees

The canonical image of dinosaurs is one of lumbering giants, standing in marshes in order to get a lift for their obese bodies. Meanwhile, paleontologists have debunked this myth. Dinosaurs come in all shapes and hues; they fly; the graze peacefully; they do not just snap cruelly at everything that moves, and they have long digestive siestas (this is what T. rex mostly did, apparently).

Some have been found in trees: [3]

277 (2)

Nature is a tinkerer, not a designer, using what is at hand: “animals do what they do, not necessarily because it is what they are good at, or even because their anatomy is suited to it, but simply because they can. As a result, unexpected behaviours are commonplace.” (pg. 40)

Truth is in the detail

I have been educated on the idea: “truth is in essence” – the Platonic view that there are unchanging ideas underlying everyday realities. We live is caves (so the story) and what we perceive are “shadows” of the ideal truth.[4] But is it so?

In 1917, the planet Mercury had been observed each (Mercurial) year not exactly returning to its former place along a perfect ellipse; it showed a precession of 1/100 of a degree per century. This was the smallest of errors: negligible? Not for Albert Einstein. He toiled away; he developed his general theory of relativity; he was then able to reconcile Mercury’s behavior with his new model of space-time. “According to Einstein’s biographer Abraham Pais: “This discovery was by far the strongest emotional experience in Einstein’s scientific life, perhaps in all his life.” He claimed to have heart palpitations, as if “something had snapped” inside.[5]

Most details are subordinate – they can be safely ignored if they can be explained as part of the overarching paradigm. Details stubbornly refusing to fit the paradigm are anomalies awaiting an explanation. At this edge of the known we have the “adjacent possible” whose exploration can lead us to push back the horizon of the known.[6] Love thy anomaly!

[1]               http://bit.ly/1dExLjg

[2]           http://bit.ly/1eIzMra

[3]           John CONWAY – C. M. KOSEMEN – Darren NAISH (2013) : all yesterdays. Unique and speculative views of dinosaurs and other prehistorical animals. Irregular books

[4]           The Allegory of the Cave – also known as the Analogy of the Cave, Plato’s Cave, or the Parable of the Cave – is an allegory used by the Greek Philosopher Plato in his work The Republic to illustrate “our nature in its education and want of education” (514a). It is written as a fictional dialogue between Plato’s teacher Socrates and Plato’s brother Glaucon at the beginning of Book VII.

Socrates describes a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows. According to Socrates, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not constitutive of reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.

The Allegory is related to Plato’s Theory of Forms, according to which the “Forms” (or “Ideas”), and not the material world of change known to us through sensation, possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. Only knowledge of the Forms constitutes real knowledge.” http://bit.ly/1eTU7Mz

[5]           Lawrence M. KRAUSS (2012): a universe from nothing. Why there is something rather than nothing. Simon & Schuster, New York.

[6]               Steven JOHNSON (2010): Where good ideas come from. The seven patters of innovation. Penguin, London.

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