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Stunning Dillard solar ratio

Monday, August 14th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — mathematics and metaphor, a ratio of the irrational ]
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A total solar eclipse in Svalbard, Longyearbyen, Norway, on March 20, 2015 — Jon Olav Nesvold

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From Annie Dillard’s Classic Essay: ‘Total Eclipse’:

Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.

Annie Dillard is one of our great stylists, so it’s perhaps not surprising she came up with this jaw-dropping piece of mathematics, or should I call it logic? It’s a ratio, anyhow:

Seeing a partial eclipse : seeing a total eclipse :: kissing a man : marrying him

By common consent, ratios are usually applied to quantifiables — but there’s really no quantifying seeing, kissing, or marrying.

**

I don’t think I’ll be able to make the eclipse, but if any of you can, please do. No less an authority than Annie Dillard — she wrote Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek and Holy the Firm — strongly advises it.

Fire and Fury — a fair or unfair borrowing?

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — how can anyone accurately judge the rage of another — and what happens if we simply can’t, but need to take precautions against it? ]
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President Trump certainly spoke of visiting “fire and fury” on the DPNK as quoted by the Economist in its DeafCon page (upper panel):

The question is whether the use of the phrase to headline a piece on the Alt-Right torchlight protest at UVa (lower panel) is appropriate or not?

  • Does it trivialize the serious matter of potential nuclear war by applying Trump’s phrase to a mere few hundred protesters,
  • or does it rightly intuit that the fury and fire of the Trump-Bannon platform — as applied to the DPNK nuclear program — is of the same cloth as the fury and fire of the protesters, and thus entirely applicable and appropriate?
  • **

    For the second time today:

    Metaphors, analogies, parallelisms, paradoxes — my stock in trade — are delicate matters, and should be treated with care.

    Eagle, tiger vs drone

    Friday, February 24th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — tiger swats mechanical mosquito, also ontology and metaphor ]
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    I recently reported on eagles in training to take down drones in Next up — the anti-eagle drone — here’s video to go with that report..

    and here’s video of tigers similarly employed to pair with that eagle video, making a fine YouTube DoubleQuote:

    **

    Thoreau describes the (newfangled) train in Walden, using an animal metaphor:

    When I meet the engine with its train of cars moving off with planetary motion … with its steam cloud like a banner streaming behind in gold and silver wreaths … as if this traveling demigod, this cloud-compeller, would ere long take the sunset sky for the livery of his train? when I hear the iron horse make the hills echo with his snort like thunder, shaking the earth with his feet, and breathing fire and smoke from his nostrils, (what kind of winged horse or fiery dragon they will put into the new Mythology I don’t know), it seems as if the earth had got a race now worthy to inhabit it.

    We have nature, and we have nurture — but new tech hardly fits in either category. When a new tech arises, initially, it’s readily assimilated to an animal, ie a form of nature — as in my equation of drone and mosquito in the header to this post.

    And drone? What kind of name is that? As near as I can judge, the mechanical usage derives from the same term used to describe a male bee.

    **

    Okay, we might as well close with a quote from Thoreau’s friend Emerson, offering an intriguing ontology of means of transport, the natural and technological included — with an eagle this time on the receiving end of hunting..

    Man moves in all modes, by legs of horses, by wings of winds, by steam, by gas of balloon, by electricity, and stands on tiptoe threatening to hunt the eagle in his own element.

    Recommended Reading—Summer 2016

    Monday, July 11th, 2016

    [by J. Scott Shipman]

    Storm of Creativity2017

    wright-brothers-biographyserendipities

    Paradisejssundertow

    white horsewashington

     

    The Storm of Creativity, by Kyna Leski

    2017 War With Russia, by General Sir Richard Shirreff

    The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough

    Serendipities, Language and Lunacy, by Umberto Eco

    Paradise, Dante Alighieri, translated by Mark Musa

    Undertow, by Stanton S. Coerr

    The White Horse Cometh, by Rich Parks

    Washington The Indispensable Man, by John Thomas Flexner

    This list starts the first week of May, so perhaps the title should be Spring/Summer. Most of these books are quick reads and all are recommended.

    I picked up Ms. Leski’s book at an MIT bookshop on a business trip in early May and read on the train ride home. Books on creativity are ubiquitous, but Ms. Leski takes an interesting approach by describing the creative process using the metaphor of a storm. Several ZP readers will find of interest.

    2017 was recommended by a friend. The author was the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the book focuses on a Europe/NATO response to a Russian invasion of the Baltics. Written in a Tom Clancy-like style, the plot is fast-paced even though the good general provides sometimes provides detailed insights into the inner workings of NATA and the North Atlantic Council (this is one of the values of the book—bureaucracy writ-large).

    David McCullough’s Wright Brothers delivers an approachable and human accounting of the first men of powered flight. Some reviews on Amazon complain McCullough lifts and uses too many quotes to tell the story. At times the quotes were distracting, but not enough to prevent the enjoyment of the story of two brothers who changed the world. This book was a gift otherwise I probably would not have read.

    Serendipities is a short book, but was a long read for me. Eco explains how language and the pursuit of the perfect language has confounded thinkers since time immemorial. He refers to Marco Polo’s unicorn (also used in his Kant and the Platypus which is excellent) explaining how language is often twisted to meet a preconceived notion or idea. The first couple of chapters were quite good, chapters three and four did not hold my interest or were over my head. The closing chapter was good enough to convince me I’ll need to read this little book again. (My Eco anti-library has been growing of late.)

    Eco’s book led me to reread Musa’s excellent translation of Paradise. My son gave me the deluxe edition with parallel Italian and English, plus commentary. Eco referenced Canto 26 and 27, and I enjoyed the break so much I read the whole thing!

    Undertow is my good friend Stan Coerr’s second book of poetry.  His first book Rubicon was a moving collection of poetry of men at war. Undertow deals more with the heart and is quite good, too. You won’t be disappointed.

    White Horse is also a book by an old friend, Rich Parks (we’ve known each other since the mid-80’s). White Horse is self-published and in places it shows, but the overall story is quite good for a first book (I’ve already told him his book would make an excellent screenplay.). The plot is quick and entertaining even if a bit unbelievable, but the story is fiction. Rich is following up with a sequel in August in 2016 and I’ll be reading it, too.

    Mr. Flexner’s Washington was a gift, too. In this quick biography Washington is made approachable and human. And when I say “quick,” I mean quick…Trenton and Princeton took one chapter compared to David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing which took up a standalone book. If someone were looking for a first Washington biography, this would be a good place to start.

    This isn’t the conclusion of my summer reading, but a pretty good start.What are  you reading this summer?

    Red mercury as scam and symbol

    Friday, November 20th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — CJ Chivers, nuclear nonsense, faux chemistry, and the alchemical imagination, with hat-tip to Cheryl Rofer ]
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    CJ Chivers, conflict journalist extraordinaire and author of a book about the Kalashnikov assault rifle, The Gun, today posted a remarkable account of what he terms The Doomsday Scam, with the subtitle “For decades, aspiring bomb makers — including ISIS — have desperately tried to get their hands on a lethal substance called red mercury. There’s a reason that they never have.”

    A taste:

    The Islamic State, he said, was shopping for red mercury.

    Abu Omar knew what this meant. Red mercury — precious and rare, exceptionally dangerous and exorbitantly expensive, its properties unmatched by any compound known to science — was the stuff of doomsday daydreams. According to well-traveled tales of its potency, when detonated in combination with conventional high explosives, red mercury could create the city-flattening blast of a nuclear bomb. In another application, a famous nuclear scientist once suggested it could be used as a component in a neutron bomb small enough to fit in a sandwich-size paper bag.

    and:

    To approach the subject of red mercury is to journey into a comic-book universe, a zone where the stubborn facts of science give way to unverifiable claims, fantasy and outright magic, and where villains pursuing the dark promise of a mysterious weapon could be rushing headlong to the end of the world. This is all the more remarkable given the broad agreement among nonproliferation specialists that red mercury, at least as a chemical compound with explosive pop, does not exist.

    Indeed, there’s a sidebar in Chivers’ post which sums the topic up nicely:

    The shadowy weaponeer’s little helper, red mercury was the unobtainium of the post-Soviet world.

    There’s much more, of course — with red mercury rumored to be found in old Singer sewing machines, which briefly raised the price of such machines in Saudi Arabia a thousandfold to $50,000 — and the whole extraordinary piece is more than worthy of your attention. It is also about a concrete, if counter-factual, reading of the term “red mercury.”

    Cinnabar, aka mercury sulphide, anyone?

    **

    A centuries-old debate concerning alchemy has concerned the literal and metaphorical interpretations of alchemical texts.

    Scholars up to and including Isaac Newton theorized about and practiced alchemy in their aptly named lab-oratories, at a time when literal and metaphorical “readings” were much less easily considered separately than is the case today. Alchemy was then for a while widely ridiculed as proto- and indeed pseudo-science — a tendency still prevalent in many circles today. And more recently, alchemy has been explored by Carl Jung and followers (and his predecessor, Silberer) as a field of imaginative, metaphorical inquiry illuminating spirituality, psychology and literature.

  • BJT Dobbs, The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy
  • BJT Dobbs, The Janus Faces of Genius
  • Herbert Silberer, Problems of Mysticism and its Symbolism
  • CG Jung, Psychology and Alchemy
  • CG Jung, Alchemical Studies
  • CG Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis
  • Marie-Louise von Franz, Aurora Consurgens
  • Titus Burckhardt, Alchemy
  • Jung’s reading of alchemical texts is a symbolic reading — in accordance with the principle “the stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone” (Psalm 118.22, cf Acts 411), he has taken precisely those materials in the alchemical tradition which modern chemistry rejected as ridiculous, and reclaimed them as symbolic, richly metaphorical expressions of psychological truth.

    **

    It is in that spirit that I turned from Chivers’ fascinating treatment of “red mercury” as an allegedly physical, albeit spurious, substance, with its intriguing narratives of scams from the Cold War to the present day and IS, to take a look at what I might find via a brief search in the Jungian literature. I say “quick” because I have neither the appropriate library nor the time for a more intensive search, but here’s what little I found:

    There’s a “red mercury” reference in Stanton Marlan, The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness, on p. 22:

    The idea is that the raw solar energy must darken and undergo a mortificatio process that reduces it to its prime matter. Only then can the creative energies produce a purified product. In this image the sperm of gold refers not to the ordinary seminal fluid of man but rather to “a semi-material principle,” or aura seminales, the fertile potentiality that prepares the Sun for the sacred marriage with his counterpart, darkness, which is thought to produce a philosophical child or stone and is nourished by the mercurial blood that flows from the wounding encounter of the Lion and the Sun. The blood — called red mercury — is considered a great solvent.

    Marlan then gives us what is effectively a translation of the paragraph above into contemporary therapeutic language:

    Psychologically, there is nourishment in wounding. When psychological blood flows, it can dissolve hardened defenses. This then can be the beginning of true productivity. In dreams the imagery of blood often connotes moments when real feeling and change are possible. The theme of the wound can also suggest a hidden innocence, which is also a subject of mortification. The green color of the lion, which is referred to as “green gold,” suggests something that is immature, unripe, or innocent, as well as growth and fertility. The alchemist imagined this innocence, sometimes called virgin’s milk, as a primary condition, something without Earth and not yet blackened. Typical virgin-milk fantasies are often maintained emotionally in otherwise intellectually sophisticated and developed people.

    **

    And then there’s what Jung would term synchronicity..

  • CG Jung & Wolfgang Pauli, The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche
  • In my twitter stream within 3 minutes of my posting my first tweet re Chivers’ piece, & before I’d tweeted my follow up, I ran across this tweet containing the phrase “Drawing Blood will eat the sun”:

    Drawing Blood will eat the sun — just how synchronistically alchemical can Molly Crabapple and Twitter get?


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