Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

“Historia” means “inquires”

Having just stated Tom Holland’s “Persian Fire, The First World Empire and the Battle for the West”, I am excited to tell the world (ha! This blog has been visited just over 1000 times – my self-published books, which must be purchased, have gleaned a much larger readership, perhaps even with time factored into consideration…) of some exciting information of which I’d been unaware.
The ancient Khorasan Highway, leading from Gandhara and the upper Indus River, through Sogdiana and Bactria to Mesopotamia, is so ancient that only warrior-goddess Semiramis is given credit for building it (she’s credited as the founder of Babylon, too). Along this “highway” (often but a narrow mountain trail), early horse-people came west, and conquered early agrarian societies – including the greatest king of the Assyria, Sargon II. In 615 BCE, the chief over all the clans of the Medes, Cyaxares, razed Ninevah, the greatest of Assyrian strongholds. His heir Astyages, as powerful as the Pharoah in Egypt, built a mighty capital at the “assembly point” (Ecbatana) where the tribes had met (something, I’m guessing, like an Icelandic All-thing). In winter savagely cold, with roads in and out blocked by snow, in the summer its valley was a paradise – green (as opposed to the Persian lowlands), with snow-capped mountain peaks providing cooling breezes, their slopes terraced with orchards and gardens, the new palace was within seven gleaming walls, each painted a different color, with plates of gold and silver bolted to the battlements of the two innermost circuits. This palace guarded approaches to the Iranian plateau, commanding trade between east and west.
Ah, but after less than a quarter century, a related tribe, most likely aided by a resentful traitor of high position in the Median army, took over, and the head of the Archaemenids, later to be known as Cyrus the Great, became king. But not without stories of the Magi interpreting dreams, an heir ordered killed but the orders defied (“The baby… abandoned on a mountainside, to be discovered and brought up by a Shepard; or perhaps, some said, a bandit; or maybe even a bitch, her teats conveniently swollen with milk”), and even a son presented to a general (Harpagus) as a lamb dinner (and consumed).
Then Croesus, King of Lydia, attacked… Cambyses succeeded to the Persian throne and conquered Egypt, and descendents of people who’d invaded from the east returned to exert great influence, especially in south and south-east Asia.

Wow. Good stuff. And what do they teach in our schools?

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Shock, resentment and free will

Shock, fear, attraction, sorrow and nostalgic sentiments do not correspond to sequences of measurable, or even very describable internal physical motions. Yet, they do result from occurrences, especially series of occurrences. And, emotional states exhibit physical manifestations. So, the free will vs. determinism debate seems destined to continue (as if we don’t witness ourselves making, and re-making, decisions).

We know of physical causes impairing mental function: physical tiredness and exhaustion, hunger, illness, poison, intoxicants… and also that shock doesn’t usually occur completely separate from external physical event. Memories have been evoked by physical means, including pressure applied on brain cells.

But feelings like resentment haven’t been artificially produced – they come only from interactive event. One may believe in the existence of effective love potions, but not shock potions. We’ve yet to be found fully programmable, manipulate-able or explicable.

And the excellent work for which Kurt Gödel is best known strongly suggests we never will be. Whether or not he was right about the “river of time” having whirlpools which could wrap itself into a spiral (was he tripping or what? But hey, many great thinkers and imaginative people weren’t all that solid, stable and sane).

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Crunched time? some gravity about Einstein

Surfing the Net looking for information relevant to my problems with Einstein, I found this gem on Rebel Science, at “Nasty Little Truth About Spacetime Physics”: “Dr. Michio Kaku is an evangelizer for string theory. String theory postulates that time is one of the 10 dimensions of nature and that dimensions can be "compactified" or curled up into tiny little balls, so tiny, in fact, they can never be detected. The brains of string theorists can be described in a similar fashion.” The author, Louis Savain, also says “Gödel is certainly the most often quoted yet inconsequential mathematician of the world. He is known for his, the most non-scientific, chicken-feather-voodoo nonsense ever penned by a member of the human species. In 1949, Gödel announced to the world that Einstein's general theory of relativity allows time travel to the past via "closed time-like curves." The only thing Gödel proved, in my opinion, was the incompleteness of his frontal lobe.”
About what Savain calls the Incompleteness Theorem (generally regarded as a proof), I most emphatically disagree (but to go into that would be too much a digression). And even Michio Kaku can be right about some things, while so very wrong about so very much else.
Later, Savain somewhat redeems himself with: “logically speaking, it is a fallacy that time changes. Clocks change, physical processes change but time is invariant. Why? Because… 'changing time' is self-referential. The truth is that nobody has ever observed time changing.” And also, “the relativity-derived notion of time dilation is hopelessly misleading. Time does not dilate (as if time could change!). On the contrary, it is the clocks that slow down (for whatever reason) resulting in longer measured intervals.” Then, “When we use a clock, we may fool ourselves into thinking that we are measuring something physical that we call time, but what we are doing is detecting change.” I’m not quite as happy with Savain’s assertion that time is an abstract parameter derived from change. – but will let that pass while observing merely that “change” here might just be motion (which is not necessarily the same thing). I certainly agree with Savain that “One can agree with the mathematical and predictive correctness of both the Special and the General Theory of Relativity without accepting time contraction.”

The duration of days and years certainly can change, and perhaps the apocryphal twins, one of whom travels on a fast spaceship while the other stays home, would age differently – it the one travelling so fast survived. But I remind myself here of early belief that automobiles travelling faster than 30 mph would result in a deleterious impact on the health of passengers.

Physicist Hans Ohanian, in his 2008 book, Einstein’s Mistakes wrote, "Einstein failed to consider all possible variants of the use of light signals and clocks for measurements of the speed of light. Einstein was very inventive, but he had a one-track mind, and after he was stuck by his mystical inspiration about clock synchronization by light signals he ceased to think about alternatives. If he had thought about it a bit longer, maybe he would have come up with a dozen alternative methods for measuring the one-way speed of light."

Einstein attained global stardom when observations performed during a total eclipse confirmed his theory of relativity - by showing that the sun’s gravitational field bent a light beam to the degree that he’d predicted. But he was soon embracing the Zionist goal of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, despite the clear lack of any homogenous Jewish culture, gene pool or even belief system. Somehow, Einstein also asked, “Wasn’t nationalism the problem rather than the solution?”
Media presentations about his physics (which have been increasingly seen as originating elsewhere, instead of with him) soon had people accepting that understanding of reality in concrete terms was beyond the capability even of most intelligent individuals. Yet, Einstein said that he didn’t trust any scientific theory which can’t be reduced to a simple elegant picture which a child can understand.
It begins to seem to me that Einstein himself didn’t really understand much of what he taught, as much of it contained errors, and was self-contradictory or incomplete, or both. We still have no clear idea how gravity works.

I found it said that it isn’t “possible to have space without time, or time without space, because space and time are opposites.” Maybe – I don’t quite grok (if the term from Heinlein can be excused). “We can’t see anything when it happens. We see everything in the past. We see everything a little while ago, and always in such a way that the while ago just balances the distance away…” Reminds me of the story of Achilles and the hare (racing, while he shot an arrow, and nothing moved…??? How did that go?)


Sunday, December 20, 2009

As things fall apart

Heat rises (i.e. moves up toward the stratosphere in any possible direction from the Earth, or other celestial body), but one can determine when a campfire was extinguished by feeling under it, with but a bit of experience at doing so. So, heat radiates, but more against gravity than in the direction of its pull.

Today I read on a site I often quite like, the “newsletter” Counterpunch (“Turning Tricks, Cashing In on Fear” by Alexander Cockburn) that from about 800 (CE) to 1300 the Earth was hotter than now, that in the past 8 years average, or mean, temperatures have not risen, and that the polar ice caps are not shrinking (“the average temperature of the atmosphere and the oceans near the surface of the earth has decreased significantly for the last 8 years or so. CO2 is a benign gas essential to life, occurring in past eras, long before the advent of manmade emissions, at five times present levels”). Perhaps ocean levels are not rising either, but our waters sure have gotten dangerously polluted, and humanity would do very well to take much more responsibility for the mess it creates, global warming or no.
Elsewhere on a quite recent post, global warming was taken for granted as a pressing emergency we fail to deal with. Somehow I feel sure I’m not missing anything important by not studying up on the recent global warming summit and Obama’s perhaps pseudo-vindication there!
In the article dismissive of a controllable warming trend, it was mentioned that heat cannot travel from a colder area to a hotter one. And about the importance of that I just don’t know. Although a warmer stratosphere can’t send heat down, it may well suck up less heat, or absorb it at a slower rate, amounting to close to the same thing.

All this may say more about the current status of news reporting than about anything else… except maybe also that of academic science (particles reaching our stratosphere at great speed should burn entirely before reaching planet surface - but don’t, purportedly because of time contraction due to the great speed. But why posit time changing at great rates of speed, when reference to altered density and slowed rates of chemical and physical activity is sufficient? Occam’s Razor got thrown out the window so fast no-one even saw it leave. Demonstration: ever see it yourself, or hear of anyone seeing it? Denouement: it’s gone, way gone… almost as if it never had been. But why bring up mysteries of time when explanations we can actually comprehend will do?)…

The mention of that warmer time period greatly interests me, though, corresponding as it does to a very important rise and fall – that of Mongolia. It took a lot of men to conquer so much! Yes, the Mongols used others, as foot soldiers, but it was their ponies that carried the day (their ponies and their riding skills, anyway). And maybe only because of warming was there a sufficient population of men and ponies to sweep out of that cold, desolate land and conquer so much of the “known” world.
Maybe the warming contributed to the Black Death, and maybe cooling to its end.
I’ve often wondered about Genghis Khan brooding, like Achilles, in his tent (well, yurt) after having alienated almost all of his compatriots. It seems he knew he could rise to power, and now I’m wondering if he might have been aware of a population increase causing changes to dynamics in local (well, Mongolian) power politics.

I don’t know, and can easily suspect no one else does either. But I know the North Pole did melt – especially due to hearing an urban-legend type story about Russian neuvo-riche helicopter excursions to the pole for “lunch” ceasing ($10,000 per person cheap), for there no longer being any place to park.
And, from an airplane, I’ve seen the many miles high cone of filthy smog above the New York metropolitan area. I’ve also read of the fantastic claims that windmills would ruin the scenic beauty of the North Carolina coast (claims made, of course, by the very rich). But hey, who wants to get real when we can be self-indulgent?

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The here and now of abstract ideal

Hardly more than two decades after achieving self-determination (well, sending the British military posted to its territory back home), the USA was embarked on a foreign policy determined almost solely by business interests, with little concern for ethical considerations, or even the promulgation of democracy (an excuse for interventions often cited for propagandistic purposes, which, however, produced little hard or lasting evidence of actual good intent).
The result of this indifference is now an inability to negotiate except through offer of direct payment or threat of force.
The majority of the populations in many of the US “allied” countries is composed of people unmoved by democratic rhetoric, suspicious of outsiders and unwilling to rely on international institutions (which may well be much for the best).
Which, of course, eventually undermines business (perhaps also very much for the best).
Advocates of unregulated business may often be “Christian” but they’re also very Darwinian (in a popular, but restricted, and hardly entirely correct, sense); they clearly support, with minimal effort at justification, social inequality, inequity and limited justice… the kind of thing by which a slave could be counted as 3/5 of a person, for political purposes (as under early US constitutional law).
It’s shortsighted, but the here and now is different than a possible future for one’s descendents, or some abstract ideal, isn’t it?

There is one respect in which the USA espouses some pretense of ethical morality: in the repression of intoxicating drugs. In this, Social Darwinism has been having an incredible victory. With the market in not merely a fashionable craze, but a social mainstay placed totally in the control of criminals, underground corporations have developed, with the most ruthless at the top. Civil disobedience (did those involved only know it was that) has become popular, and the funds for experimental new enterprises have been made available… surely through the foresight of our wise leaders.