Although the New Year is a few days off (you still have time to stock up on champagne), most calendars start on Sunday, so today is the first day of the first week of 2021. More to the point, all 52 weeks of 2020 are now officially behind us. We can begin the process of shaking the dust of an awful year off our shoes.
How many times have I said I look around and forward, but rarely backward. (Lots of times!) Of course I’m more than willing to see the tail end of a wretched year and an even more wretched Presidency. (Easily, at this point, the worst in our history.)
Anyway: On the third day of Chillaxmas, my blog post is about…
A Very Merry Christmas (or Seasonal Equivalent) to One and All! My wish for everyone is a peaceful and joyful day of good food, good friends, good relaxation, or whatever you wish this season. Ideally you aren’t traveling today, but if you are I hope your journey is swift, easy, and safe.
My wish to see the “Christmas Star” came true, and I also got a white Christmas (in the nick of time). There was also a wish about an election that came true.
So the year is ending nicely I think; worthy of some celebration.
It has been doubly depressingly cloudy for a while now. “Doubly” because I like sunshine and because I’ve been wanting to see the Great Conjunction.
Tuesday evening it was finally clear enough that I could. (I missed the date of closest approach, Monday (12/21), by only one day, so I was very happy.)
I’ve said (many times) that when it comes to movies it’s the unexpected small gems I love most. The Art of Self-Defense (2019), starring Jesse Eisenberg, is definitely a small (dark) gem, and doubly unexpected.
Firstly, unexpected in the ordinary sense of having no idea what the film would be or that it would be any good. But secondly, because I’d recently seen Eisenberg in American Ultra (2015), which I saw as another unexpected small gem. This movie’s artwork (as you see) suggested to me it might be similar.
It couldn’t be more different, except that both are really good small gems starring Jesse Eisenberg. I’m thinking he has good taste in picking scripts.
I just finished reading Beyond Weird: Why Everything You Thought You Knew About Quantum Physics Is Different (2018) by science writer Philip Ball. I like Ball a lot. He seems well grounded in physical reality, and I find his writing style generally transparent, clear, and precise.
As is often the case with physics books like these, the last chapter or three can get a bit speculative, even a bit vague, as the author looks forward to imagined future discoveries or, groundwork completed, now presents their own view. Which is fine with me so long as it’s well bracketed as speculation. I give Ball high marks all around.
The theme of the book is what Ball means by “beyond weird.”
As I write this, it’s been almost eight hours since the Winter Solstice passed. (It was at 10:03 UTC.) Here we are, the first official day of winter, and it’s not looking good for a White Christmas:
Not only no snow, but it friggin’ rained this morning!
Not good at all. Unless you hate winter and shoveling!
I’ve known about Aldus Huxley’s soma as long as I’ve been a serious reader of science fiction, but it wasn’t until I finally read his 1932 novel, Brave New World, that I had a full picture of it. There is a direct avatar in the modern drug Xanax (and perhaps more so in marijuana), but it’s the metaphorical versions of soma that caught my eye these past decades.
The point of soma is that it is an external coping mechanism — a tool for promoting one’s own happiness with and in life. It can be the sledgehammer of a drug (or the gunshot of a lobotomy, to be extreme), but I see many metaphorical versions of it in our culture now.
When I look around, I see a seriously soma-soaked society.
In Through the Looking-Glass, Humpty Dumpty famously declares that words mean what he wants them to mean. I’ve known people to declare the same thing — that, for whatever reason, they can use their own meanings for words. (To be clear, Lewis Carroll was mocking the idea.)
While ideas matter more than the words used to express them, it’s a lot more challenging to communicate and discuss those ideas without a shared vocabulary. A common language that is rich and detailed makes the expression of ideas all the more precise and accurate.
This is why con artists prefer convoluted language: it’s a mask.
Since I retired, I’ve been learning and exploring the mathematics and details of quantum mechanics. There is a point with quantum theory where language and intuition fail, and only the math expresses our understanding. The irony of quantum theory is that no one understands what the math means (but it works really well).
Recently I’ve felt comfortable enough with the math to start exploring a more challenging aspect of the mechanics: quantum computing. As with quantum anything, part of the challenge involves “impossible” ideas.
Like the square root of NOT.
In every literary genre (in every type of art, really), there are classics that stand out and often participate in forming the language, or at least some of the territory, of the genre. That is part of what makes these works classics. (Lord of the Rings is an ultimate classic — all Medieval fantasy since is in reference to it.)
I suspect all serious readers have a classic or two they’ve never gotten around to. Last week I finally got around to reading the classic science fiction novel, Brave New World (1932), by Aldous Huxley.
For a novel written 88 years ago, it’s surprisingly prescient and relevant.