Friday, June 30

Natural cruelty

Cruelty is indifference to suffering (and even positive pleasure in inflicting it) and usually carries connotations of supremacy over a submissive or weaker force. Cruelty is often considered to be a human characteristic only, but this notion could be incorrect. My dog Louis plays with a snail - he rolls the little creature back and forth and chews on the coiled shell. Can this be considered cruel? One might argue it is not, because Louis is not intelligent enough to realize he is playing with another animal. But Louis attempts to play with cats in a similar way, while these animals certainly look more lively than the sluggish snail in his inflexible shell.

Louis probably does identify many other individuals as living creatures. Dogs are social animals, taking other animals into account is in their genes. Not because they like being loyal and friendly, but because it's their way of life and a crucial trait for survival - nowadays as well as in the past. The real question is; does Louis understand that his actions cause emotions in other animals, including humans? If he barks at me, he knows he is doing something 'wrong' and he will probably run away at my first move towards him. Why? Because he has seen my reaction before and remembers it, or because he knows barking triggers an unpleasant respons similar to other undesirable behaviour? I wonder if he understands that my reaction is a result of my feelings and thoughts - and not just a consequence of his actions. Do I play an active part in his experience, am I more than a machine? More than a dynamic object which transfers cause into consequence? He might know that he is similar to the animals around him. He might not know.

But is it necessary to answer these questions before concluding anything about cruelty in animals? Maybe not. If (for whatever reason) you cannot comprehend the fact that other individuals experience feelings as well - if you do not realize that consciousness reaches beyond your own mind - than an indifference to suffering of others is a direct result. However, although Louis experiences pleasure while playing with snails and nibbling on cat's ears, it is not the discomfort of these animals that amuses him - which might be considered essential in the concept of cruelty. Even if Louis sees snails and cats as living beings alike himself, he still treats them like toys. Not because he likes to hurt them, but because it is an entertaining activity. The reason why it should be fun to play is the universal importance of discovering your surroundings. Nature asks an animal important questions: What is this? Can I eat it? How fast can it move? Is it of any danger to me? What am I physically and mentally capable of? How far can I go? Louis might be cruel, but only if intention is not a criterion.

Subsequently we can ask ourselves at which stage of intelligence cruelty sets in, if humans are the only cruel animals ánd if cruelty is an inevitable characteristic of creatures with a highly evolved intelligence. But that's another topic.

Thursday, June 29

Rewind

If we would assume that the evolution theory is correct, what would happen if we'd push the rewind-button of life - and play it all over again? This is a major question for evolutionary biologists. According to one group of scientists, evolution is a fairly random process. The result of replaying the whole thing will be totally different from the life we know now. Humans will not come into existance again. Others say evolution will result in similar results over and over again. I tend to agree with the first idea. That's why I will be reading a book by Simon Conway Morris; an advocate of the second notion. I wonder if Morris can balance out my thoughts - or even convince me - with his book Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe.

Sunday, June 25

To buy or not to buy

I will be honest; I do not like shopping for clothes. I never seem to find what I am looking for, although there have been exceptions. And the mirrors in fitting rooms make me even more moody. Wrong lighting. According to psychologists, people buy more if they feel bad. To ease the pain, to find relief in new clothes. Lots of new clothes. Well, here's an idea; why not make people feel good in a fitting room? After all, customers are supposed to feel good in the clothes they're fitting. "Hey, I look pretty good in this! I'll buy it!" A customer-friendly way to increased sales. Happy people everywhere. A shoppers utopia?

By the way, what's with designer clothes? Forgive me for being terribly judgemental today, but I don't like the prices (it's a piece of dyed fabric, for heavens sake), I don't like the shop staff (no, you cannot help me, I'm way beyond that point) and I don't like the I-want-to-be-part-of-the-group-mentality. Alright, if I see a very nice tunic or some jeans that fit perfectly, I will buy designer clothes. But on a voluntary basis, please. I don't want to discriminate clothes.

Wednesday, June 21

Homemade ecodisasters

Bringing exotic species into an environment often causes a lot of problems. The ecological balance becomes disturbed and usually the biodiversity in that particular area is reduced tremendously. Recently I have been able to see for myself the amount of damage an exotic species can bring on. In the bookcase stands a small aquarium in which about ten fishes have lived (happily?) for years. I had no idea fishes could live that long, but these ones lived for ages. There was a little algae problem going on though. It was decided to buy a freshwater mussel, which cleans the water and looks quite nice too. A mollusk live in action. But after a few days, the fish began to look rather odd. Ravelled. The mussel itself could not have touched them, of course. But this intruder was changing something in the water - something in the environment that had been unaltered for years. The fish began to die. This morning, the last one floated to the surface. We gave the mussel away a couple of days ago ('I've brought you a serial killer, if that's okay') but it was too late. The 'mussel of death' had exterminated all his tankmates in less than a week. It didn't nibble on the fish. It didn't steal their food or their space. But it killed them all. I'm just saying, don't throw your piranhas in some ditch - or individuals of other species that may look harmless. They might be 'unmoved' killers as well.

Monday, June 19

Giving it all

The most important lesson I learned in yoga is about keeping one's balance. The thing is, you cannot keep balance or hold it tight. Balance is received by reaching out for it. I feel it's the same with happiness, which is a direction instead of a point. I also believe that it is the way that we should live our lifes - reaching. I'm not trying to say we shouldn't be happy with what we've got, I'm saying that the very essence of enjoying our lives is making the effort to enjoy. Realizing our happiness. James Dean once said; "Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today". So enjoy having dreams and goals just as much as reaching them. Accept yourself. Be yourself. Ask every question. Never regret. Never worry. Jump in. Turn obstacles into challenges. Try something new. Interest yourself in anything. Stop hating and start forgiving. Make respect an active verb. Don't be afraid to believe. Celebrate even the slightest miracle. Follow the sun. Take in the world. Get high on euphoria. Stop drawing lines and start crossing them. Take down the walls and turn your mind into a playground. Let go. Look. listen. Feel. Breathe. Speak out. Share. Dream. Dance. Sing. Smile without a reason. Love without reserve. Live.

Sunday, June 18

40 Love

This poem has a very unusual shape; it makes your eyes fly over the net like a tennisball. Roger McGough is a well-known British performance poet, as well as a playwright, broadcaster and children's author. In a 2001 interview with Zoë King, McGough states: "The tennis poem started off as just a five line, straight poem, then I had the idea of setting it out on the page, then when I was reading it, years afterwards, I started looking from left to right, so the tennis poem didn't come as one idea."

Saturday, June 17

The story of a lifetime

Narcissism, voyeurism, and paranoia combine to make The Truman Show a disturbingly accurate forecast of the imminent future. Creating a world where a man can live out his whole life on television. - creativescreenwriting.com

Truman is a normal guy, living in a normal town. He grew up to be a desk clerk for a insurance company, living an ordinary life, having an ordinary wife, an ordinary neighbour and an ordinary bud, who pops in from time to time with a sixpack. However, Truman finds his life is getting very repetitive. He does not yet know what he is about to find out; every moment of his life is being filmed and being watched by millions. His world is limited in a Hollywood film set - a gigantic dome where the sky is a painting and the stars are spotlights. The Truman Show has been portraiting his life from the moment he was born. Trumans world revolves around Truman. Quoting the director of Trumans life; "We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented." But Truman stops accepting, and starts a quest for reality. The Truman Show is one of my favorite movies, because the story seems to have many layers and meanings. And it contains my favorite scene ever, which is pictured above. Truman, literally reaching the horizon of his world.

Friday, June 16

Bonfire

My books, notitions and other school papers - burning.

Thursday, June 15

Waterhouse: Diogenes of Sinope

Diogenes is the man sitting in the clay tub in this painting by John William Waterhouse; a successful pupil of Antisthenes (who was a pupil of Socrates) living in barrel belonging to the temple of Cybele. This famous philosopher avoided eartly pleasures and devoted himself to preaching the doctrines of virtuous self-control. He was the apostle of poverty, the exponent of the art of doing without. He would often scroll through the marketplace with a lantern at full daylight; "just looking for an honest man". Diogenes also invented the concept of cosmopolitanism, when he said "I am a citizen of the whole world." The story goes that he once met Alexander the Great, who was absolutely thrilled and asked if there was any favour he might do for him. Diogenes just replied, "Stand out of my sunlight." Alexander's courtiers jeered, but Alexander silenced them. He realized was taking away from Diogenes what he could not give himself. Alexander then declared, "If I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes." To my opinion he said this to emphasise their equality, but perhaps it was also a warning for mediocrity, implying that ambition should be utter or absent altogether.




Tuesday, June 13

Unwanted anonymity

Wikipedia is probably the largest all-round encyclopedia to be found on the internet, and I enjoy writing articles for the dutch Wikipedia very much. It practices my writing and research skills, keeps me busy and makes me feel good because I am contributing to something useful. Sometimes I write short articles on new subjects - sometimes I expand an existing article in great detail. Today, after two weeks of researching, reading, typing, clicking, photographing, uploading and checking, I've completed my 'masterpiece'. Meaning, my largest, most extensive edit ever; the dutch Wikipedia article on sand.

Yes, I am a little proud of my work, to be honest. It took me quite some time to finish it. But when I finally uploaded everything, I forgot that I was not logged in yet. I clicked the History tab. In bright blue it listed the last edit. My edit. Although the characters were not spelling out my username, but only an inexorable, hollow IP-adress. I cannot even call it 'mine', as I did not recognize it as my property - and nobody will. Editor: Anonymous. That hurts a little.

Monday, June 12

Through the heat

Hell must be isothermal; for otherwise the resident engineers and physical chemists (of which there must be some) could set up a heat engine to run a refrigerator to cool off a portion of their surroundings to any desired temperature. - Henry Abert Ben (The Second Law)

We're having a heatwave right now, and it sure is hot. How to stay cool? I think that is a matter of both body and mind. It really seems to help if you stop complaining and start to relax. It's okay to do something, but it needs to be done slowly. Relaxing as much muscles as you can. If you try to fight the heat, it will fight back. It's not that bad in the shadows, anyway.

Friday, June 9

One step at a time

The most extensive computation known has been conducted over the last billion years on a planet-wide scale: it is the evolution of life. The power of this computation is illustrated by the complexity and beauty of its crowning achievement, the human brain. - David Rogers

There is no scientific theory I find more fascinating than evolution. An idea of such simplicity, even a child can understand the basics. One might argue differently, but I allow myself to believe that the simplest hypothesis is usually correct. How can evolution, in essence, be a complicated process? It cannot be, at least not without the interference of a God. Assume there is no God, or assume He chooses not to interfere with earthly matters. Just assume, because let us be reasonable; this is a mere theory too. Nature doesn't plan. She's not even to be called impulsive. The world we live in has no brain - everything just happens. Things either happen by chance, or because it's the easiest step to be taken. The simplest solution is the only solution - at least on the long term. It is only the product of evolution which seems of incomprehensible complexity to us. A few simple rules have led to a world that is more intricate than we will ever be able to imagine. Nature proves us you don't need a brain to be smart; you just need a few billion years at your disposal.

The theory of evolution is based on a few principles, all of them quite reasonable and logical. Take natural selection for instance; survival of the fittest. Organisms who are talented survivors live longer, produce more offspring and thus pass on their genes to a large part of the future gene pool. Organisms who don't have what it takes, die. Their genetic information failed to succeed in the ultimate test that we call Life. Somewhat sad, but also essential to the survival of the species. What can I say, life's hard. Hard, but not necessarily unfair - it depends on your definition of what is fair and what is not.

My point being; the evolutionary processes that have occured on Earth in the last few billion years are extremely difficult to understand completely, but like all complicated matters they consists out of... steps, if you will. Small steps that are easier to understand but do not have a large impact individually. But if you have a distant goal, and you take many small steps towards it, you will eventually end up there. Evolution has no goal, it just keeps on going. But let us realize the tremendous importance of this simple idea. And let us appreciate the elegance and beauty of the world in which it resulted - something we are only able to do because of evolution itself. It is my opinion that the human brain is indeed a mile-stone on the road of evolution, because it means this process has led to something that can understand the process itself. Furthermore I have come to believe that evolution cannot be a contradiction to the existence of God. On the contrary, it could serve as proof of His infinite brilliance.

Thursday, June 8

All colours

A rainbow is an optical phenomenon showing a spectrum of light. This is caused by the refraction of light, which is different for every colour. White is actually a mixture of all colours in the entire spectrum, but because some light rays bend more than others (red bending most) these colours can be separated. In the case of a rainbow, raindrops reflect and refract the light of the sun. But a colour spectrum can be observed in other ways too. This is what some glue on a compact disc looks like under my microscope.

Wednesday, June 7

Heart

Heart, we will forget him!
You and I, tonight!
You may forget the warmth he gave,
I will forget the light.

When you have done, pray tell me
That I my thoughts may dim;
Haste! lest while you're lagging.
I may remember him!

- Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, June 6

A bright beginning

Today, I felt like six years of high school had finally ended. As I handed in all my school books, a weight dropped off my shoulders. Literally. Those books were heavy. Of course I have some other things to do at school before leaving once and for all. But today I realised it was all over. I will never walk trhough those corridors as a student again, from classroom to classroom, surrounded by hundreds of other students. I will never talk and laugh with my friends during maths again, if only to soothe the pain of failure. We could fill an hour by saying the word 'panda' with a German accent. It was hilarious, although we still haven't found out why exactly. We were desperate, probably. And now my teachers and classmates already seem to become strangers. But it's not that sad. I think it is a happy ending. And usually an ending is a beginning too. Today I cleaned up in every sense of the word, and now everything is shining brightly.

Sunday, June 4

Cute

It’s inevitable if you have a newborn baby - or a puppy, for that matter. Everybody thinks they’re so cute. Friends overwhelm you with compliments. Strangers seem to assume that everything little and adorable is common property - a notion that expresses itself in uninvited cuddling of the cute subject. For instance, take a look at this picture of my puppy Louis. He looks cute, doesn’t he? Many people think so. People I pass by on the street make high-pitched sounds, emphasize how adorable he looks and stroke him. Giving him heaps of attention. But Louis is to become a guide dog, and giving him attention while he's on the leash is not allowed. But have you ever tried stopping someone who wants to cuddle your pup? It is simply impossible, they're all over him in no time! And it’s not just Louis, it’s little dogs and cats and children all over the world.

Interestingly enough, there is a biological explanation for this kind of behaviour. It helps animals taking care of their cubs - the power of rounded shapes and a big head with a pair of those vast, black eyes. It makes us all want to care. But remember, appearances can be deceptive. This cute little pup will rip your vingers off in a second. Don't believe it? I wouldn't take the risk.

Saturday, June 3

To see the microscopic world

To see the world in a grain of sand,
And Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
- William Blake

Today my first microscope arrived, with 20x and 40x magnification and stereo-imaging. Finally I can look at my sand collection a bit closer. But there are many other subjects which can be examined closer too. I'm looking forward to using my new microscope in the next few weeks. Above is a picture of my sand from Budir in Iceland. The microscope does not have a special third eyepiece for a camera, but I've put my digital camera against one of the eyepieces and the result is pretty good. The image was circular of shape but I have cut this piece out.

Friday, June 2

Forever young

At Whatireckon.com there is an article on Time-Travel. It contains some interesting facts I would like to share with you. For instance, if you travel faster, you age less quickly. This means that if you get into a rocket and travel with (almost) the speed of light for twenty years, and return to Earth, five million years will have elapsed there. Theoretically it also means that you age less quickly if you ride a bike as opposed to walking. Furthermore, your proximity to massive gravitational objects influences the elapsing of time too. You will age more quickly on Mt. Everest than you will age on sea level… Theoretically. Who wants to be forever young? You should try flying circles around the sun, trying to catch up with light itself.