“By the logic of the free-market theorists, shouldn’t religious exemptions from U.S. taxes—state subsidy by other means—breed complacency and laziness among the leaders of every American church?”
Andersen, Kurt. Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History (p. 292). Random House Publishing Group.
Happy Birthday, George.
TODAY FROM AMERICA:
A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES DURING THE PANDEMIC:
I returned from my one-day trip to UCSF in the Big Endive by the Bay for my immunotherapy infusion. As soon I entered the house from the garage and placed my hat in the closet, the front door opened and Naida entered with the dog in tow. They obviously were returning from a walk. She was holding in one hand something that looked like weeds —sprays of tiny white flowers radiating from a pale green stalk. “Welcome back,” she exclaimed. “Guess what I have?”
“It looks like hemlock.”
“No,” she laughed. “They are elderberry flowers. I picked them from the bushes by the river. The early California pioneers used to dip them in pancake batter and fry them. It is supposed to be very good.” And so, she flounced off into the kitchen and whipped up two elderberry pancakes. They were very tasty.
Two of three days after I wrote the entry above and not related to it, I felt sick. I checked for coronavirus symptoms — no fever, cough, or difficulty breathing but slight chills, headache, upset stomach, and fairly intense fatigue. I spent most of the day in bed. It could be simply a more severe than usual reaction to my immunotherapy infusion due to the doubling of the dosage at my last appointment. Or, it could be just another episode of my hypochondria. Time will tell.
I got up in the late afternoon still feeling terrible — sat in my recliner, ate a lunch of bread pudding with raisins (I’m not kidding), and instead of returning to bed, I watched “Singing in the Rain” for the umpteenth time. Still great.
I was still feeling bad, so I prepared to go back up to bed. The next movie on TCM, however, was Francis the Talking Mule starring Donald O’Connor. So, I decided to stay up and see it. Wouldn’t you?
After the movie, I was feeling a bit better but I felt as though I had a fever. I asked Naida to find the thermometer from where she left it so that I could take my temperature. She found it. Unfortunately, we had no alcohol with which to clean it so she took the bottle of Limoncello I had just purchased and plunged the thermometer into it. I had not known how pleasant taking one’s temperature could be (Of course, it was under my tongue.) Finding myself happier after sucking on a Limoncello flavored thermometer, I stayed up and watched “Fallen Angel” a noir film from 1945 directed by Otto Preminger and starring Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell, and Alice Faye. Good movie.
The next morning, I woke up feeling much better (the Limoncello?) I decided to visit HRM, But before I go, a few words about hypochondria.
B. A FEW WORDS ABOUT HYPOCHONDRIA:
I often make fun of my relatively slight case of hypochondria, but for many, it may be a rather serious mental health disorder. Being a hypochondriac and experiencing health anxiety can be debilitating. It can severely affect the lives of the people who suffer from it. “A person with health anxiety often may have gone through a serious illness and fear that their bad experience may be repeated. They may be going through major life stress or have had a serious illness during childhood.” (As a child, I had repeated hospitalizations for pneumonia — virtually every winter from when I was about 7 until I was 14).
To those suffering severe episodes of this disorder, I apologize for making light of it. Nevertheless, according to the literature hypochondriac symptoms may include:
· Regularly checking oneself for any sign of illness.
(I do this, especially at night when I am trying to get to sleep.)
· Fearing that anything from a runny nose to a gurgle in their gut is the sign of a serious illness.
(Me too — a gurgling gut also keeps me awake. Doesn’t it do that to you too?)
· Making frequent visits to their doctor.
(I do. I love going to the doctor. Lots of shiny things to look at and also they, the doctors and nurses, really do try to make you believe they care.)
· Conversely, avoiding the doctor due to fear that the doctor will find they have a dreaded disease or serious illness.
(Not me. As I said, I love doctor visits.)
· Talking excessively about my health.
(Just read my previous T&T posts — I manage to mention the state of my health in just about every post.)
· Spending a lot of time online, researching their symptoms.
(I do this. Where else would I find the statements in italics I have included here?)
· May focus on just one thing: a certain disease (example: cancer) or a certain body part (example: the lungs if they cough). Or, they may fear any disease or might become focused on a trending disease (example: during flu season, they may be convinced that a sniffle means they’re coming down with the flu).
(My focus over the years may change, but I generally concentrate on one imagined disease at a time — I am not an Omni-hypochondriac).
· Are unconvinced that their negative medical tests are correct, then worry that they have something undiagnosed and that no one will be able to find it and cure them.
(All the time. Just today I read in the report of my most recent CT scan:
Redemonstration of tubular low density 10 mm structure in the right lower lobe tracks along the bronchovascular bundle unchanged over multiple prior studies. Previously seen groundglass nodule in the left lower lobe measuring 5 mm now appears to be entirely solid rather than groundglass (series 2, image 196).
If groundglass in your lung doesn’t concern you, nothing will. What frightens me most, however, is that I cannot understand what they are talking about. I mean, solid rather than goundglass should be a good thing, no?)
· Avoiding people or places they fear may cause them to get sick.
(I do. I even cross the street when walking past a hospital.)
On the other hand, the opposite of hypochondria is anosognosia a symptom of severe mental illness experienced by some that impairs a person’s ability to understand and perceive his or her illness. Now that is serious. Don’t be an anosogniac.
C. OFF TO THE GOLDEN HILLS:
Anyway, I drove off into the Golden Hills in the Mitsubishi to visit HRM. He and Jake washed the car and then, as teenage boys do, put their heads under the hood and practiced car-talk for a while.
HRM and I also stopped by the little lake where I used to watch HRM fishing when he was younger. We reminisced about this and other things as we strolled around the ponds. I one point he said, “You know something? I never caught anything.”
We also watched some geese and ducks shepherd their goslings and ducklings on the grass by the water.
Back at HRM’s house, while the teens were occupied with the Mitsubishi, I took the time to examine the new landscaping they were all busily installing this last week or two.
D. BACK IN THE ENCHANTED FOREST:
Another view of the Enchanted Forest.
After my return to the house in the Enchanted Forest, Naida spent much of the evening entertaining me with stories about the two goats she owned when she and Bill lived on the ranch by the Cosumnes River. Her original intention was to have the goats eat the unwanted invasive vegetation in the horse pastures. In fact, they named them Black and Decker because they were supposed to remove the weeds. Although it did not work out quite as she planned, and, if her stories are to be believed, they were more trouble than helpful, she nevertheless loved the goats until they passed away leaving her sad but with a lot of funny stories. One of them has her chasing the escaped Decker across the golf course fairways that bordered the ranch and urging the surprised golfers to join her in the pursuit.
Naida with Black — Decker hides in the shadows.
A day or so later, Naida and I decided to take the dog and spend the afternoon on the banks of the American River. The river is separated from the Enchanted Forest where we live by a fifty-foot high levee. In the bottomland between the levee and the river, bike and hiking trails snake through cottonwood, black oak, and elderberry woodlands. Arriving at the edge of the river, we put down a yoga mat to sit on, watched some people fishing from boats, and eventually fell asleep.
This week seems longer than most. In addition to my frequent naps, and watching the political punditry and old movies on TV, I spend the afternoons dozing in my chair in the garden, like an old man waiting for sundown. Perhaps tomorrow I will do something odd and unusual, perhaps even a new adventure, but right now I wonder why I would want to. At my age, naps and afternoons dozing in the sun seems to be as good as it gets.
I almost forgot, we still have our evening walks through the Enchanted Forest. They are nice too.
Naida and Boo-boo the Barking Dog on one of the paths near our home in the Enchanted Forest.
Today the sameness of the day was broken with a FaceTime call with Peter and Barrie. There was a lot of talk about dogs, music, food (marzipan), and toilet paper.
One day. I dove back into the Golden Hills to do a little shopping. I also picked up some medicines and visited HRM. The crew at Dick’s house remains in their landscaping frenzy. SWAC has Dick, Adrian, Bob the Handyman and HRM working every day for the past week or so buying plants and trees (hundreds) at the nursery, hauling them home, planting them, installing the drip irrigation, transporting rocks and masonry and building the paths, terraces, and rock gardens. It all seems a bit mad.
Hayden by one of the several new rock gardens.
I do not recall much of the past few days because I have felt, ill, listless, and irritable in the 90-degree heat and have taken to spending much of my time in bed — what else is new.
MOPEY JOE’S MEMORIES:
I began writing, “This and that…” 10 years ago when I moved from the US to Thailand. It was not called “This and that from re Thai r ment” then. That happened almost a year later when my good friend Irwin Schatzman suggested I name it that. Irwin also suggested “3Th,” but I no longer remember what that means. About eight years ago, my beloved “cuzin” died, a victim of cancer.
I moved into a house in Chiang Mai I built but no longer owned in order to take care of Hayden who was four at the time.
My original purpose in writing what became T&T was to make it more efficient to keep in touch with my friends and relatives back in the US by writing a single email rather than separate ones to each. I also wanted to begin keeping a journal about my exile. I had tried to keep a diary many times in my past but would soon lose my resolve and abandon it. For a while, I kept the journal separate from my letter but I thought by combining my journal with that letter I would feel obligated to keep on writing it and it also would be more efficient and less work for me.
Here is my first post from Chiang Mai and the associated journal:
My first full day in Chiang Mai. The house that I had built, for those of you who have seen it, is in pretty good shape. The landscaping has grown in well.
This morning I walked Hayden to school. As befits the dawdling scholar, he took absolutely the longest way possible, stopping to examine every hole in the ground, viewing from both sides each muddy mosquito-infested canal that passed under the road and insisting on discussing the wonders of each thing he investigated.
PS: Below are photographs of the grounds of the house and of Hayden and I clowning around. I apologize for the mawkishness of this e-mail. I am composing it at the local coffee shop that I realize may, in part, circumscribe my life here.
My home in Chiang Mai Thailand.
Haden and I horsing around.
FROM MY JOURNAL: January 19, 2010
Walked Hayden to school this morning. He said he knew the way since I did not. It was a boy’s map, full of turns to visit points of interest (friends houses and residences of selected and named canines). We also explored any interesting holes in the ground and had several discussions about my walking stick among other similarly engaging and important topics. We stopped at all of the muddy weed-choked and mosquito-infested canals that crossed beneath the road on which we walked, first to one side and then the other searching for ways to get down to the water (me of course counseling against it).
A car stopped driven by a woman who I believe lives in the house across the road from ours. She offered us a ride and over Hayden’s objection, I accepted.
At Haden’s school, “Sunshine Kindergarten” we were met at the gate by an attractive young Thai woman. And of course, even in my dotage, I preened.
The school contains the main building and several small attractive adobe like outbuildings.
The entrance to “Sunshine Kindergarten.”
After seeing him off, I searched for the cafe in order to have a latte. At first, I went in the wrong direction but retraced my steps and found it. I ordered a cafe latte and an orange juice and played with my computer answering some emails and trying to set up my calendar.
I left the cafe. As I walked towards home I passed a group of buildings that I recalled were either a school or the subdivision office but were now mostly derelict. One building in good repair contained a restaurant. I went in and ordered pad thai and an iced tea. Mediocre. The other customers were Europeans of whom there is a lot living in the subdivision. I left and slowly walked home.
A. On Top: A Few Brief and at Times Amusing Essays for Understanding Some Basic Science with Which to While-Away Your Time During Self-Confinement (continued) Part IV.
ENTROPY, THERMODYNAMICS, AND THE UNIVERSE.
There is another puzzle associated with entropy in our universe.
Astronomical observations do not fit well with the Second Law. On cosmological scales, our universe seems to have become more complex with the passage of time, not less complex. The matter in the universe started out in the Big Bang with a very smooth distribution and has become more and more clumpy – more and more complex – with the passage of time. The entropy of the universe seems to have decreased considerably, not increased. Matter is now segregated on a huge range of scales: into rocks, asteroids, planets, stars, galaxies, galactic clusters, galactic superclusters, and so on. Using the same metaphor as in thermodynamics, the distribution of matter in the universe seems to be maturing increasingly ordered. This is puzzling since the Second Law tells us that a thermodynamic system should become increasingly disordered.
The cause of this clumping seems to be well established: it is gravity. A second time-reversibility paradox now rears its head. Einstein’s field equations for gravitational systems are time-reversible. This means that if any solution of Einstein’s field equations is time-reversed, it becomes an equally valid solution. Our own universe, run backward in this manner, becomes a gravitational system that gets less and less clumpy as time passes – so getting less clumpy is just as valid, physically, as getting more clumpy. Our universe, though, does only one of these things: more clumpy.
Paul Davies’s view here is that ‘as with all arrows of time, there is a puzzle about where the asymmetry comes in … The asymmetry must, therefore, be traced to initial conditions’. What he means here is that even with time-reversible laws, you can get different behavior by starting the system in a different way. If you start with an egg and stir it with a fork, then it scrambles. If you start with the scrambled egg and very very carefully give each tiny particle of egg exactly the right push along precisely the opposite trajectory, then it will unscramble. The difference lies entirely in the initial state, not in the laws. Notice that ‘stir with a fork’ is a very general kind of initial condition: lots of different ways to stir will scramble the egg. In contrast, the initial condition for unscrambling an egg is extremely delicate and special.
In a way, this is an attractive option. Our clumping universe is like an unscrambling egg: its increasing complexity is a consequence of very special initial conditions. Most ‘ordinary’ initial conditions would lead to a universe that isn’t clumped – just as any reasonable kind of stirring leads to a scrambled egg. And observations strongly suggest that the universe’s initial conditions at the time of the Big Bang were extremely smooth, whereas any ‘ordinary’ state of a gravitational system presumably should be clumped. So, in agreement with the suggestion just outlined, it seems that the initial conditions of the universe must have been very special – an attractive proposition for those who believe that our universe is highly unusual, and ditto for our place within it.
From the Second Law to God in one easy step. Roger Penrose has even quantified how special this initial state is, by comparing the thermodynamic entropy of the initial state with that of a hypothetical but plausible final state in which the universe has become a system of Black Holes. This final state shows an extreme degree of clumpiness – though not the ultimate degree, which would be a single giant Black Hole.
The result is that the entropy of the initial state is about 10-30 times that of the hypothetical final state, making it extremely special. So special, in fact, that Penrose was led to introduce a new time-asymmetric law that forces the early universe to be exceptionally smooth.
Oh, how our stories mislead us … There is another, much more reasonable, explanation. The key point is simple: gravitation is very different from thermodynamics. In a gas of buzzing molecules, the uniform state – equal density everywhere – is stable. Confine all the gas into one small part of a room, let it go, and within a split second, it’s back to a uniform state. Gravity is exactly the opposite: uniform systems of gravitating bodies are unstable. Differences smaller than any specific level of coarse-graining not only can ‘bubble up’ into macroscopic differences as time passes, but do.
Here lies the big difference between gravity and thermodynamics. The thermodynamic model that best fits our universe is one in which differences dissipate by disappearing below the level of coarse-graining as time marches forwards. The gravitic model that best fits our universe is one in which differences amplify by bubbling up from below the level of coarse-graining as time marches forwards. The relation of these two scientific domains to coarse-graining is exactly opposite when the same arrow of time is used for both.
We can now give a completely different, and far more reasonable, explanation for the ‘entropy gap’ between the early and late universes, as observed by Penrose and credited by him to astonishingly unlikely initial conditions.
It is actually an artifact of coarse-graining.
Gravitational clumping bubbles up from a level of coarse-graining to which thermodynamic entropy is, by definition, insensitive. Therefore virtually any initial distribution of matter in the universe would lead to clumping. There’s no need for something extraordinarily special.
The physical differences between gravitating systems and thermodynamic ones are straightforward: gravity is a long-range attractive force, whereas elastic collisions are short-range and repulsive. With such different force laws, it is hardly surprising that the behavior should be so different. As an extreme case, imagine systems where ‘gravity’ is so short range that it has no effect unless particles collide, but then they stick together forever. Increasing clumpiness is obvious for such a force law.
The real universe is both gravitational and thermodynamic. In some contexts, the thermodynamic model is more appropriate and thermodynamics provides a good model. In other contexts, a gravitational model is more appropriate. There are yet other contexts: molecular chemistry involves different types of forces again. It is a mistake to shoehorn all natural phenomena into the thermodynamic approximation or the gravitic approximation. It is especially dubious to expect both thermodynamic and gravitic approximations to work in the same context when the way they respond to coarse-graining is diametrically opposite.
See? It’s simple. Not magical at all …
Perhaps it’s a good idea to sum up our thinking here.
The ‘laws’ of thermodynamics, especially the celebrated Second Law, are statistically valid models of nature in a particular set of contexts. They are not universally valid truths about the universe, as the clumping of gravity demonstrates. It even seems plausible that a suitable measure of gravitational complexity, like thermodynamic entropy but different, might one day be defined – call it ‘gravtropy’, say. Then we might be able to deduce, mathematically, a ‘second law of gravitics’, stating that the gravtropy of a gravitic system increases with time. For example, gravtropy might perhaps be the fractal dimension (‘degree of intricacy’) of the system.
Even though coarse-graining works in opposite ways for these two types of systems, both ‘second laws’ – thermodynamic and gravitic – would correspond rather well to our own universe. The reason is that both laws are formulated to correspond to what we actually observe in our own universe. Nevertheless, despite this apparent concurrence, the two laws would apply to drastically different physical systems: one to gases, the other to systems of particles moving under gravity.
B. Trenz Pruca’s Observations:
Liberals have principles, Conservatives ideology.
C. Today’s Poem:
Untitled — Anonymous Australian Aboriginal Poem.
The white man dropped from the sun bright sky,
For he envied the blackfellow’s land,
With greed and revenge in his restless eye,
And disease and death in his hand.
And he grasped the forest, and he seized the strand,
And claimed the blue mountains high;
And he scours the bush with a ruthless band,
’Till its denizens trembling fly —
And his pigs and his cattle pollute the land
’Till it stinks, and the blackfellows die.
— Anonymous (source language unnamed), “Untitled,” Bendigo Advertiser (Victoria), September 26, 1855, page 4.
D. Pookie’s Musings:
I discovered the following quote on Wikipedia while looking for something else. It is one of life’s great conundrums that whenever you look for something, you inevitably discover something else more attractive but far less useful than that for which you were originally looking. Anyway, I have posted what I found here in the hope that Peter, who studied and received advanced degrees in philosophy from one of the world’s great Universities and sometimes reads my postings, could unravel the meaning and significance of it as well as the conundrum I mention above.
In the philosophy of science, the distinction of knowledge versus reality is termed epistemic versus ontic. A general law is a regularity of outcomes (epistemic), whereas a causal mechanism may regulate the outcomes (ontic). A phenomenon can receive interpretation either ontic or epistemic. For instance, indeterminism may be attributed to limitations of human observation and perception (epistemic), or may be explained as a real existing maybe encoded in the universe (ontic).
After reading the above, I concluded it has one of two meanings. The first has something to do with universal fecundity. After all, of what use is one’s epistemic without an ontic? On the other hand, perhaps it all has to do with the effect of self-quarantine on my mind. Could it all be attributed to its limitations on my observation and perception — a hallucination perhaps? Or, could it be explained as something real, existing, and perhaps encoded in the universe? Is whether anyone cares an epistemic surmise or an ontic reality?
The Mayfly and the Great Trout.
“[A]n old mayfly is telling some youngsters about this god, as they hover just above the surface of a stream:
‘… you were telling us about the Great Trout.’ ‘Ah. Yes. Right. The Trout. Well, you see, if you’ve been a good mayfly, zigzagging up and down properly—’ ‘—taking heed of your elders and betters—’
‘— yes, and taking heed of your elders and betters, then eventually the Great Trout—’ Clop. Clop. ‘Yes?’ said one of the younger mayflies. There was no reply.
‘The Great Trout what?’ said another mayfly, nervously. They looked down at a series of expanding concentric rings on the water. ‘The holy sign!’ said a mayfly. ‘I remember being told about that! A Great Circle in the water! Thus shall be the sign of the Great Trout!’
Pratchett, Terry. The Globe: The Science of Discworld II: A Novel. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
The view from my window at night