Diary, 4/3 to 4/6/2019

Copyright 2019 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

Common Good
New Meetup.com group, The Common Good

{4/3/19}  Weight 221.0.  Back to normal?

Went to Dagny’s at 8:30 and worked on Kick Me for an hour.  Bought groceries.

Finished the Naomi Klein and Robert Reich [This Changes Everything and The Common Good, respectively] both this evening.  Now I want to start a new Meetup group, “The Common Good” or something like “Civic Education.”  That is, I want to study the things that I believe in, learn about getting our democracy back, and learning how to use our democracy to fight climate catastrophe.  I was unable to find a demonstration planned for tomorrow in Bakersfield.  Democratic Women of Kern and MoveOn.org, neither web site had anything, and a Google search also was unproductive.

It’s also time to get in touch with the Democratic party headquarters in Bakersfield.  No reason I can’t be stuffing envelopes or something, one day a week, and maybe I’ll be in a loop for future demonstrations.

Writing letters to TV news networks might also be a thing to do, at least it’s an idea I had while reading, but no longer quite understand.  What is it that I want them to change?  Do I even know what they’re doing now?

Books I sent to Z were misdelivered on 4/1.  Phooey!  Getting them to the post office was a royal pain.  Two boxes, priority mail, quite heavy, $35.

My 2/19 cold has not stopped even now.  Much nose blowing today.  Grrr!

To lose weight, I should cut out chips and ice cream sandwiches.  Which won’t do much if I just substitute other snacks.  Also, the tricycle is rusting unused.  Here I am, shoulding all over myself, as they say.


{4/5/19}  Weight 221.2.  An hour later, 221.0.

4:53 am:  In thinking about the meaning and weirdness of E=MC2, and the meaning of “understanding,” and in trying to figure out over how many years I was a naked prowler of my neighborhood, I’ve been unable to get back to sleep, and I wanted to get some of these rare thoughts into permanent form.

Now, to take the personal first.  When I was a naked prowler, I was in puberty and trying to get a grip on my sexuality (an unfortunate metaphor here).  Why did I steal only women’s clothes?  Clearly, the essential point was that they were women’s, and not that they were clothes.  I was, perhaps, trying to get closer to an understanding of “the Female.”  And when I was twenty-six, a decade later, I became nearly engulfed in the Female, to the extent of wanting to be female and desiring a sex-change operation.  And after that episode, when I finally gave up wearing women’s underwear under my man-clothes, then what?  Perhaps I had acquired a bit more understanding of the Female, and was ready to turn a corner.

Well, the question of how many summers I spent as a naked prowler seems an odd one.  It was at least one—and when it got too cold, that was the end?  Probably so. Yet, it seems that the cross-dressing impulse, that seemingly began that one summer, had merely gone unconscious, and so I was ripe, at age twenty-six (a decade later), to be strongly influenced by a movie about a young man who changed his sex.  (I say twenty-six, but it seems more likely to have been twenty-five, when I was in the throes of Marge-love and also seeing a shrink.)  [The movie was I Want What I Want, starring Anne Heywood.  If these comments come as a great shock to my blog readers, know that my book in progress, Kick Me, is all about this and other of my “blunders, humiliations, and crimes.”]

As for the weirdness of E=MC2, why is the constant in this formula the square of a seemingly-unrelated physical fact?  It is sort of embedded in my world view that matter and energy are the same thing in different forms; but I cannot understand why they are related by dragging in the speed of light.  Why that?  Why not, say, the atomic number of hydrogen (one), or the gravitational constant, or the average IQ of 100, or 2.236 times the speed of light?  Although this weirdness is a great puzzle to me, it’s not a puzzle I will figure out in this lifetime.  I know there’s a book about Einstein’s great formula…

Now, the philosophical question of “what is ‘understanding’?” is comparatively easy, at least at the start. My understanding of gravity, which I have considered within the past couple of months, seems to me of two parts:  I have in mind an explanatory metaphor, that “gravity is the curvature of space-time in the presence of (sufficient) matter,” and I have practical knowledge of a kind that I can apply in solving various kinds of textbook problems in physics, though I might have to look up the formula, such as, “how far has a falling object traveled in two seconds?”  This is pragmatic, predictive knowledge—the ability to predict, by calculating, the results of physical experiments.

But the explanatory metaphor is almost completely hollow, because I cannot understand the meaning of “curvature of space-time.”  It is a physical idea that I cannot really relate to.  I mean, I know about the bending of light rays, as predicted by Einstein and later demonstrated via a solar eclipse…but what I’m really sorta understanding there is actually “curvature of space,” not space-time.

Aside from the metaphor and the ability to apply formulae, I see that there is a third “understanding”:  my body weighs so much, and that book weighs so much, and that bottle of aspirin weighs so much, and if I pick up either of the latter two and the weight isn’t what I anticipate, my body will react awkwardly and my mind will be surprised.  I might call this the “bodily understanding” of gravity.  As for the weight of my body, I know it sufficiently well that I could use it to judge the probability of safely crossing a pit by walking on a narrow plank.  That is, I could mentally compare my weight against the strength of the plank, and make a crude judgment of the danger, as I unconsciously judge the strength required to lift that book.  I think this bears some relationship to the ability to predict, via calculation, the results of physical experiments—perhaps a relationship not dissimilar to that of knowing my age, and “feeling old.”

“A book, a sentence, a proposition, a position, a truth, anything is worthless to me unless I can understand it.”  Thus I started my sketch of “The Bleak Philosophy.”  What kind of “understanding” fits into that formula?

The various items listed in my “formula” all involve words.  My understanding of gravity doesn’t seem to have much to do with understanding the word “gravity.”  My understanding of gravity is a relationship between a physical theory and its application to practical problems:  explanation, and prediction of two types (bodily and experimental).  And I’m thinking now that “understanding” in my formula relates to “prediction.”

Example:  astrology.  Astrology as practiced today seems to be used to predict human behavior or personality, and to predict events in general terms.  That is, “He’s such a Taurus,” and “My astrologer told me this was going to happen.”

I don’t have a good—or any—explanatory metaphor to help me understand how the positions of planets can be connected to such predictions.  I also don’t even have much of an understanding of how astrology can be applied, that is, how an ephemeris can be used to make predictions.  The process seems to involve using an ephemeris to find the locations of planets (including Sun and Moon)—let’s call them “celestial objects”—at a specific date and time, and relating the mythology of the object to the mythology of the location (i.e., the constellation).  So, to make use of the Moon being in Venus, I would put together the two mythologies, looking for coincidences or relationships between the various stories or symbols, and using that whatever to predict that someone will meet a stranger.  Or, more simply, I would look in somebody’s book to find the “meaning” of “Moon in Venus.”

The whole thing seems clearly artificial and arbitrary.  I feel no “understanding.”  Even if I could use astrology in the way described, after having studied the mythology involved, would I then understand why it works?  Clearly not.  The positions of celestial objects are facts of the physical universe.  The only thing these facts would allow predictions of, seemingly would be future positions of celestial objects.  To relate the positions to predictions of human personality or events in human lives seems, again, artificial and arbitrary by its very nature.  So I conclude with what I already knew:  astrology is useless to me.

In other news, I was dreaming this morning of saying to someone something to the effect that “the best part of Marvel movies is when the Hulk and Iron Man are fighting.”  Whoever I said this to, possibly Robert Downey, Jr., as “Tony Stark,” dismissed the thought with a shake of the head.  I also dreamt of scenes involving Marvel characters, but I can’t remember any details that aren’t just replays of scenes from the movies—specifically, I remember Spider-Man sprouting legs (to the surprise of Peter Parker) in Avengers:  Infinity War.  But I don’t remember any other scenes or details.  Correction:  I remember sort of arguing with myself that dialogue between “Bruce Banner” and “Tony Stark,” though very different from the action scenes, was just as entertaining, and banter between “Black Widow” and “Captain America,” also.  These were opinions I had while asleep, but they stand up to scrutiny now.

Interesting.  I remember reading the Sherlock Holmes stories at some point in my youth, and being struck by the strange word, “scrutinize.”  The use of “scrutiny” just now brought up the memory.

Now 6:11 am.  A useful hour and twenty minutes, writing and remembering.  Thus another little piece of my lifespan is consumed as I race towards death.

So, now what?  Now I have to pee, and then I can weigh myself, and either stay up or go back to bed.

I predicted, just for laughs, my weight would be 221.4.  It was 221.2.

Before moving on, I wanted to record my thoughts about D.  At the last Hemlock Club he was talking about the 9/11 conspiracy theory, which he apparently believes, and J said he had also seen the video of the “squibs” firing off.  The little I know of the theory doesn’t make much sense to me.  Supposedly the Twin Towers were packed with explosives, to bring them down after the planes crashed into them.  And this was a plot involving the President and Saudi Arabia and a few hundred people.

How much time shall I spend arguing against this theory?  No more.  D also believes that oregano oil cures the common cold (and just about everything else), and J believes that it’s important to take massive doses of vitamins every day, as well as that the “mercury in vaccines” is a serious health concern.

I don’t believe any of these things.  Which of us is the silliest?  These are not obviously silly people (though J is definitely way off the norm).  How, then, do they get to these absurd extremes?  I don’t challenge these beliefs of theirs…

They talk, seemingly persuasively, of their facts and research and so on.  How they can come to their conclusions is beyond my understanding, and I don’t see much point in speculating.

Pablo, of course, is even more “extreme,” but, as I’ve said before, I am never quite sure which of the things he claims to believe, he actually believes.  I’m afraid I’m giving him too much benefit of the doubt, however.  He really does succumb to magical thinking, day after day.

8:09 am:  A nap and a second dream.  I picked up from somewhere, possibly a library, a box of books, though I’m not sure that I intended to get books.  In any case, it came as a great surprise to me that the box contained books that I had put in, intended as donations.  The box was quite huge, like maybe four feet on a side, in the shape of a cube—far larger than I could have carried.  That’s all.

I have started a new Meetup group, called “The Common Good.”  The purpose is not entirely clear to me, but it has to do with study and discussion and politics and climate change.  So, a repurposing of my Saturday mornings.  I could be whimsical and say that I sense history knocking at my door, but I won’t; it comes from a quote in The Common Good.


{4/6/19}  Weight 220.4.

A dream fragment, from I know not when:  I open a drawer and see in the bottom a shattered mirror.  The fragments look very clear and bright, like liquid mercury.  That’s it.  I don’t know when I had this dream, whether last night or during a nap yesterday, or on waking yesterday morning.  Perhaps the incident is unworthy of mention, but it does remind me that I once dreamt of a net of glowing golden wires, a vision of unearthly beauty, more vivid than any sight seen while awake.

In the last paragraph I used the word “dreamt.”  Isn’t it odd that in English, we have both “dreamt” and “dreamed”?  Many verbs can be terminated either way.  “Terminated” is a word that can end only in “ed,” however.

I have axed the Meetup group, Writers Writing.  Another noble failure.  However, I still will be going to Dagny’s this morning, early (leaving home at 7:30).  Because I still need the kick in the butt to rewriting Kick Me.

Thomas S. Kane:  The New Oxford Guide to Writing is a book I owned decades ago, read part of, and was impressed by.  So I bought a replacement copy some time last year.  It’s an excellent, intermediate-level guide to effective prose.  Why, then, am I thinking of getting rid of it?  Because I know that I won’t read it, and probably don’t need to read it, though…  Maybe I’ll send it to Z.  But there’s no hurry.

On a whim I went to see the movie Shazam! yesterday.  It was terrible because they tried to make it funny and it wasn’t funny on the whole (though I did laugh out loud a couple or three times).  The action scenes generally involved Shazam running away, which got really old really fast.  Other elements of the movie were competent but uninspired.  The real problem was with the script, notably the dialogue.  Marvel movies have led me to expect funny banter, alas.

Copyright 2019 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved



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