Some people on the internet think Stephen Hawking couldn’t have calculated a better day to die.
Calculated. Like it.
The 76-year-old theoretical physicist, one of science’s most famous luminaries died on March 14, also known as National Pi Day — an annual day for scientists and mathematicians around the world to celebrate the value of pi that even includes deals on pizzas and actual pies. Suffice it to say that the noteworthy coincidence was not lost on the internet.
The date of Hawking’s death — 3/14 — is significant because 3.14 are the first three digits of pi, a bedrock of geometry. Specifically, it’s the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Naturally, the fact that science’s big celebration overlapped with the day the life of the party left us is making people geek out about the details.
As soon as news spread that Hawking died early Wednesday morning in London, people were quick to connect the dots.
Connect the dots, eh?
And here’s the complete USA Today article:
So, is there some mystical theory explaining how noted astrophysicist Stephen Hawking died on the same day Albert Einstein was born, which also happens to be the day we honor the mathematical constant Pi?
Nope. It’s just all one giant coincidence.
Hawking died at 76, his family confirmed early Wednesday. He was considered one of the world’s foremost theoretical physicists, developing critical theories on black holes and writing A Brief History of Time to explain complex scientific concepts to the masses.
That’s it. Nope, in a word. Nope. There is no “mystical theory explaining how noted astrophysicist Stephen Hawking died on the same day Albert Einstein was born, which also happens to be the day we honor the mathematical constant Pi”.
That’s decided without consulting Pythagoras, Newton, Johann Valentin Andreae, Hermann Hesse‘s Joseph Knecht, or any of a dozen other worthies I might name..
But note: Warren Leight adds another datapoint and brings the circuit to completion:
Stephen Hawking was born January 8, 1942, on the 300th anniversary of Galileo's death. He died today, March 14th, on the anniversary of Einstein's birth. Time is circular – no beginning, no end.
[ by Charles Cameron — featuring SWJ, Uma Thurman, and an outbreak of sheer alchemy – !! — on MSNBC ]
Poetry is irrepressible.
Often confused with things people print with broken lines, poetry is a view on things, an angle oblique to reality revealing an archipelago of plausible, interesting deeper meanings, not behind but within the everyday.
Under that definion, poetry is irrepressible, while the broken line stuff is failing, almost dead, precisely because it so oftten lacks authentic poetry.
Here, then, are three examples of the elements of poetry visible emerging from the dense forests of the prosaic, as the Mayan temples emerge from the Guatemalan forest in this National Geographic image:
vegetation and the night can come to be seen part of the enemy, a similar view can emerge concerning civilians
So: “the night can come to be seen part of the enemy” — true in terms of personal experiences of war (we’re talking Vietnam here) no doubt, but also mythic in its resonance, in a way that’s inseparable from its practical, field reality: night as darkness, the unknown, mystery, terror, all providing a cloak for sudden attack.
Bringing the moon and the sun together always makes me happy.
From Ari Melber on The Beat yesterday, at 47.12 almost at the very end of this clip:
Sheer alchemy, out of the Tube, out of nowhere! Bringing the sun and moon together is the conjunctio, subject of Carl Jung‘s last major work, Mysterium Coniunctionis, and symbolized by the union of sun andd moon, king and queen, gold and silver:
The middle image, showing the coniunctio, is from the Rosarium Philosophorum (1550): Jolande Jacobi describes it thus in her book The Psychology of C.G. Jung:
The alchemical conception of one of the stages of the coniunctio. Here the ‘king’ and the ‘queen,’ who may be taken as Sol and his sister Luna, appear as symbols of the primordial psychic opposites, masculine and feminine. Their ‘marriage’ is meant primarily in the spiritual sense, as is clear not only by the words of the middle band spiritus est qui vivificat, but also by the dove as symbol of the spirit, and according to the ancients, amor coniugalis. The primordial opposites confront one another in their naked, unfalsified truth and essence, without conventional covering; the difference between them is evident and ‘essential;’ it can be bridged in fruitful union only through the intermediary of the spirit symbol, the dove, the ‘unifier’ which intervenes from ‘above.’ The branches held to form the cross, the flores mercurii, and the flower hanging down from the dove’s beak—all these symbols of the process of growth illustrate the common effort of man and woman in the living work of the coniunctio.
For Ari Melber, out of the blue, to come up with this expression of his “happiness” at “bringing the moon and the sun together” is a stunning instance of the breaking though of the prime symbol of sheer alchemy into an MSNBC news program — in the midst of the Trump / Mueller controversy!
Last fall, Arthur Wagner was part of something remarkable: His political party, the anti-Islam, anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland, entered the Bundestag, becoming the first far-right party in the body since the 1950s. This year, Wagner has done something even more [ .. ]remarkable: He has converted to Islam and left AfD.
Even stranger, Wagner is not the first person to leave a far-right, anti-Islam party in Europe and become a Muslim. Arnoud van Doorn, a member of Geert Wilders’s Dutch Freedom Party—which is another far-right, anti-Islam party—left it in 2011, converted to Islam in 2012, and soon after made hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca Muslims are obliged to make at least once in their lifetimes. And in 2014, Maxence Buttey, a local councillor for the National Front (FN), France’s analogous far-right party, converted to Islam and was suspended from the party committee.
In the United States, a grisly story made headlines last year when an 18-year-old former neo-Nazi in Tampa who said he had converted to Islam confessed to killing two (apparently still) neo-Nazi roommates, though that case is so grotesque, and the use of violence so far from mainstream Muslim practice, that it defies comparison to the European examples. (The suspect also shouted a nonsensical, non-Muslim phrase.)
In all cases, the shift from anti-Muslim to Muslim is counterintuitive.
The same article quotes friend JM Berger, commenting after the Charlotesville shootings —
The process and structure of radicalization and extremism are the same in different kinds of movements, even when the content of the extremist belief is different (such as with neo-Nazis and jihadists)
— all this as part of a sociological explanation of conversions to and from extremisms.
The sociological explanations are well-represented by these paras:
There seem to be some people who are joiners, eager to become part of larger groups. Almost everyone will know someone like this, perhaps someone who is constantly searching for new social groups or joining new organizations, or perhaps even a spiritual seeker-type who flirts with a succession of faiths. The cliche about the “zeal of the convert” exists for a reason.
According to Michael Hogg’s uncertainty-identity theory, people seek to reduce questions about who they are, where they fit in the world, and how people view them. “One way to satisfy this motivation is to identify with a group (a team, an organization, a religion, an ethnicity, a nation, etc.) a process that not only defines and locates oneself in the social world but also prescribes how one should behave and how one should interact with others,” Hogg writes.
I don’t think these sociological explanations really conflict with Jung’s theory of enantiodromia, but the latter seems more exact – “turning into the opposite” rather than “showing a propensity for eextremes” — because in my view, Jung’s version hits the mark so exactly.
I’m too fatigued to fisk Graham’s article more extensively, but my main point is that enantiodromia is “closer in” than the sociological motive, focusing in the indiviual rather than the group.
Issues of this kind crop up quite frequently. IMO we need some kind of useful understandings of the boundaries between anthropology and sociology, and of the complex relations of both with psychology.
[ by Charles Cameron — how shall we frame this last week in Washington? ]
Sapir-Whoff, George Lakoff, Carl Jung:
I’m a firm believer of some version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to the effect that it’s hard for us to think thoughts when the necessary vocabulary is not available to us — so that while an expert surfer can distinguish maybe 50 different kinds of waves by name, the rest of us can only manage to discern maybe five or six types. I also think, with George Lakoff, author of Don’t Think of an Elephant!, that the metaphorical framings we use has enormous impact on our conversations — so that liberals framing things in terms of the “nurturing mother” contrasting with conservatives framing in terms of the “stern father” — or DACA people being “kids who, through no fault of their own” are in this country, vs “illegal immigrants” — will tend to win or lose depending on which of those framings has the most powerful resonance among voters. Finally, I’m in agreement with Carl Jung that certain deep patterns in the unconscious, which he termed “archetypes”, have a basis in instinct [CW 6, par. 765], are explored in myth and the arts, and have extraordinary profundity and depth — so that generations are moved by the story of St Eustace out hunting, meeting a stag with the crucified between his antlers, from Albrecht Durer and Pisanello to John Fowles [in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Tree, and The Ebony Tower] and Russell Hoban [in Riddley Walker].
Pisanello, Fowles and Durer
Some words and metaphorical phrasings, then, are of significant importance. It is for that reason, then, that I’ve tried to keep abreast of at least a few of the play and game metaphors that have surfaced in the course of the last few days, while I’ve been stuck in bed without the internet, and with only the TV — and no rewind button — to keep me abreast of events.
Game and play metaphors, early:
These were the metaphors and framings I caught during my first three or four days without internet.
Reince Priebus was the one I caught using the phrase “play politics”, and White House OMB Director Mick Mulvaney said Senator Chuck Schumer “needs to up his game”. But if politics is a game politicians play, it’s a bipartisan game — both parties toss the term “game-changers” about freely, and each plays “the blame game” against the other. Indeed, Chuck Todd of Meet the Press sais “the blame game is what the two parties do best”, and Mitch McConnell said “When all the games stop, the issues are still there.” It might be nice to have no more games, with only the issues “in play”. Meanwhile, the President “has watched all this play out..”
There are, however, many more specific game and play references to be found in recent news reports, and they’re more inventive, more interesting than the generalized game references I’ve noted above. I’ll do my best to identify whatever I managed to note down, though it’s hard for me to keep track of all the details while stuck in bed watching TV. Here goes:
Chris Matthews said “I think [Sen Schumer] has all the cards.
Jennifer Rubin (WaPo) said someone, likely President Trump, “bounces around like a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel”.
Steve Schmidt compared a politician to “Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football.”
Someone on Meet the Press said the shutdown was “the Fight Club vs the Waffle House” I’m not sure which is which, nor who’s the winner here.
Brian Williams to Nicole Wallace: “As you delicately put it, the President plays whack-a-mole rather than chess”.
later part of the week:
Senator Graham’s suggestion to Democrats then currently in negotiation, after discussing ways in which the Republican position has been evolving: “don’t overplay your hand.”
Another term I’ve heard tonight drawn from Bridge (think “Double No Trumps” and from other card games: “The president has been the wild card here”.
Regarding the Mueller investigation, Michael Steele used Shakespearean phrasing, telling Hallie Jackson: “Of all the players and actors in this drama, Sessions is the weakest link.”
Ari Melber, comparing the loyalty Trump appears to look for in his AG and senior FBI officers with Christopher Wray‘s reasons for threatening to resign if Andrew McCabe is removed: “He was threatening over the same ballpark”.
Tony Perkins, explaining thatt the Evangellical Right will no longer support Trump if he reverts to his earlier behaviors (eg his affair with a porn star), “Tony Perkins: Trump Gets ‘a Mulligan’ on Life, Stormy Daniels“: “We kind of gave him—‘All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here,” Perkins told me.. “You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins says.
Lawrence O’Donnell discussing the government shutdown and his own times working in the Senate past midnight, saying there are often few options, none of them entirely satisfactory: “It’s usually a toss up”.
Carol Leonnig: “Trump’s lawyers have been squaring off” with Mueller.
Chuck Schumer before the final Senate vote to re-open the government: “The great deal-making President sat on the sidelines.”
After the vote: “The White House chose to take an aggressive victory lap.”
2020? “A far left and far right race?”
A touch of game theory, late Sunday night: “But the Democrats’ strategy in Washington’s latest game of “shutdown chicken” has some important data behind it — at least as the numbers currently sit.”
Chris Matthews won my prize for best paradox when he came up with “High Noon at midnight” — that’s not a game reference of course, but then Matthews is the guy whose program is called “Hardball”. And Ari Melber gets kudos for “eleven is the new ten” — brilliant, if you know the Spinal Tap “eleven” reference, and don’t think it’s about George Clooney and “Ocean’s Eleven”.
MTP: “the durability of institutions doesn’t matter to people in the ballgame.” DId I get that right?
Ari Melber: “we are going towards the red zone.” Yup.
Ari Melber, again: “You’ve been in these things — we call them scrums.” I’m not sure whether tjat’s a direct Rugby reference, it may come via the business methodology of that name…
Chris Matthews: “You’re losing a game of checkers, you’re losing a game, you break the board”. I may be able to get this one in context when the transcript becomes availale tomorrow — watch this space.
Carol Leonnig: “The President speaks in the language of a pugilist.” I googled “Carol Leonnig pugilist” to see if there was a transcript yet, and google supplied quotes from Leonnig about Barbara Boxer. Close, close.
Meanwhile, Trump: “Now they’re saying, “Oh, well, ‘Did he fight back? Did he fight back?’ You fight back, ‘Oh, it’s obstruction.’ So, here’s the thing: I hope so.” That’s pugilist talk, I think.
Someone, about the negotiations between Mueller and Trump’s attorneys, after the President said he’s looking forward to speaking with Mueller: “This doesn’t help if they wanted to start with a low bid.”
Brian Williams to Philip Bump of WaPo: “This isn’t your first rodeo eitther.” That one took me by surprise! Ride’em, cowboy!
Today, Trump is in Davos, and I’m still in bed, in recovery. I’ll bet there are some weak imstances here, but the overall use of sports metaphors is overwhelming — no other framing comes close. There are likely some typos here too — blame my meds, okay?
[ by Charles Cameron — on writers and analysts, via Dallas, Syria, Wagner, Bayreuth, Hitler and Israel ]
The symmetry is between two men that Graeme Wood has profiled in The Atlantic — Richard Spencer and John Georgelas aka Yahya Abu Hassan, leader of the alt-right and early American proponent of ISIS, respectively:
Both men are the only sons of wealthy north-Dallas physicians. They both bloomed late, intellectually and politically, and overcompensated by immersing themselves in books and ideas with gusto uncommon among their bourgeois demographic. Both admired Ron Paul, and both saw their home country as a broken land — and themselves as its savior.
They are also both young.
You can read about them both in greater detail in Wood’s twin accounts here:
When I worked at John L Petersen‘s think tank The Arlington Institute, the boss often used to ask me for a “leading indicator” — and I’d reply that one data point seldom meant anything to me, whereas two in parallel or opposition might indicate a trend. My motto became “two is the first number” — a mantram I’ve repeated here from time to time [1, 2, 3], finding notable backup in Aristotle, Carl Jung, and the IsmailiRasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’, as reported in my post It is always good to find oneself in good company.
Graeme Wood must feel some satisfaction in having written profiles of two such opposite yet well-matched men as Georgelas and Spencer — I certainly take delight in the pairing — and the parallelism is truly quite striking. Yet to deduce a trend from the observation that both are “only sons of wealthy north-Dallas physicians” isn’t grounds for alerting the FBI to profile — let alone surveil — all other such only sons.
Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.
And yet, and yet.
Graeme Wood is a writer, not an analyst, and while the specifics here — “only son”, “north-Dallas physician” — do not in themselves provide “actionable intelligence” for intel purposes, the two stories as Wood spells them out enrich our analytic understanding of the drivers that may be in play in the recruitment of extremists and terrorists.
Chamberlain’s pamphlet about Wagner’s operas and the theater he built for them in Bayreuth, published there in Bayreuth in 1896, is not his best-known work, however. That would be his two-volume work, Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, or The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century — published in the same year, 1899, as Freud‘s Die Traumdeutung — which was to provide Nazism with some of its anti-Semitic ideology. Of similar interest, his 1905 Aryan Worldview.
Now I believe I understand that it is precisely this that characterizes and defines your being: the true awakener is at the same time the bestower of peace.
You are not at all, as you have been described to me, a fanatic. In fact, I would call you the complete opposite of a fanatic. The fanatic inflames the mind, you warm the heart. The fanatic wants to overwhelm people with words, you wish to convince, only to convince them-and that is why you are successful. Indeed, I would also describe you as the opposite of a politician, in the commonly accepted sense of the word, for the essence of all politics is membership of a party, whereas with you all parties disappear, consumed by the heat of your love for the fatherland. It was, I think, the misfortune of our great Bismarck that he became, as fate would have it (by no means through innate predisposition), a little too involved in politics. May you be spared this fate.
I am chasing down byways of history and culture here to be sure — and it is not my intention to make a facile comparison between Trump and Hitler. But Wagner — surely it is interesting to note that not only were Hitler and Chamberlain obsessed with Wagner’s operas, but Graeme Wood’s account of Spencer notes that at one point Richard Spencer worked as “a gofer at the Bavarian State Opera”.
Echo? Parallelism? Kinship?
Wagner is a cultural influence of connsiderable strength — as an Alex Ross article in the New Yorker, The Case for Wagner in Israel, notred in 2012:
In recent decades, musicians have periodically attempted to play Wagner in Israel, setting off impassioned protests; Na’ama Sheffi’s book “The Ring of Myths: The Israelis, Wagner, and the Nazis” gives an account of them. At an Israel Philharmonic concert in 1981, Zubin Mehta, after giving audience members an opportunity to leave the hall, conducted the “Liebestod” from “Tristan und Isolde” as an encore; in response, Ben-Zion Leitner, a Holocaust survivor and a hero of the First Arab-Israeli War, walked in front of the podium, bared his scarred stomach, and shouted, “Play Wagner over my body.” Similarly charged scenes unfolded when Daniel Barenboim led the “Tristan” Prelude in Jerusalem in 2001. This past summer, an effort by the Israel Wagner Society to present a concert at Tel Aviv University created yet another media frenzy; in the end, the university withdrew its permission, and plans to move the event to a Hilton subsequently fell through. The Israeli conductor Asher Fisch, who was to have led the concert, has personal reasons for campaigning against the unwritten ban: his mother, who was forced to leave Vienna in 1939, felt that if her son could conduct Wagner in Israel it would amount to a final victory over Hitler, and he still hopes to realize her dream.
An author’s skilled meanderings in cultural associations may not make for actionable intelligence, but they do provide invaluable context for the overt tides and little known undertows of human history.
Which in turn affect us all, and which we in turn may wish to affect or deflect..
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.