Scientific “Correctness” vs. Scientific Progress

I came across the following brief 8-minute video and accompanying article shortly after my last post on Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  The writer does a very good job of eloquently explaining how scientific “correctness” impedes scientific progress, thereby dovetailing and supporting the very behaviors (and dangers/risks) that are outlined in Kuhn’s book.

In this context “scientific correctness” refers to the scientific establishment’s adherence to the dominant paradigms at the exclusion of all other competing paradigms (and refusal to even consider other possibilities).

The Video

The comments below the video on its YouTube page are entertaining as well.   🙂

 

The Article

Article by Mel Acheson that served as the video’s original source and transcript:

Scientific Correctness

 

Much the same as outlined by Kuhn, Acheson identifies the properties of a paradigm.  The paradigm’s framework serves to guide the paradigm’s inquiries as well as set its limits. This can be viewed both from a positive and negative aspect.

A paradigm . . .

  • defines what a scientist will look for and where to look for it;
  • sets a standard for what is acceptable with regards to the worthiness of a research topic or problem;
  • and defines what is acceptable as a solution to the problem.

“One of a paradigm’s greatest benefits is also one of its greatest liabilities: It provides guidelines (or excuses) for what to ignore.”   – Mel Acheson

Scientific “correctness” assumes its paradigm is the correct and best picture of the truth, only needing minor tweaking to stand the test of time. It is more akin to an “establishment of a catechism.” This assumption “becomes absolute and straightjackets further discovery. It leads to stasis and intellectual death.”

Acheson mentions the case of Halton Arp and his red-shift/quasar evidence that opposes the existing expanding universe (big-bang) paradigm:

“A recent example of [scientific correctness] is the behavior of the astronomical establishment toward Halton Arp. His observations of connections between quasars and galaxies put the brakes on the expanding universe and exploded the Big Bang hypothesis. But instead of saying, “Here’s an interesting observation; we don’t have time for it, but let’s see what he can make of it,” the reaction was, “Deny him telescope time and refuse to publish his findings and crop out quasars on photos of galaxies.”

Not a very scientific response.

 

Domain of Validity

Acheson shares a fascinating concept he calls “domain of validity.

As opposed to scientific correctness, domain of validity describes a process where scientists assume and expect their favored paradigm has its limits; that observational anomalies will overflow the paradigm’s ability to fully explain nature. Humility is needed to allow a paradigm to bring in its own replacement.  Science can become a toolbox of many paradigms that can be used for whatever specific application and problems they’re best suited.

Now that sounds like good science!

 

Pertinent Quotes

All, of course, by the author Mel Acheson . . . .

“The history of science provides many examples of a new discipline making little progress, squabbling over fundamentals, until a paradigm is adopted. But at the other end, when a paradigm is becoming obsolete, the ignoring of alternatives results in “paradigm paralysis” that wastes time and resources trying to force-fit big anomalies into the undersized clothes of the established paradigm.”

“Scientific correctness – The (proper) concern that a theory is “correct” or “right” or “true”, that it “fits” or explains the relevant data, becomes confused with a pseudo-religious “Right” or True” that exceeds the cognitive domain of the paradigm. All other ideas come to be judged by the standards of the one. “Crackpot” becomes a term of dismissal rather than one of mere differentiation. The process of discovery gets lost in defensiveness.”

“Scientific correctness masquerades in the dress of science, but it’s only a mannequin without the vitality of science. In contrast with the three aspects of cognition, scientific correctness refuses to look at new observations, refrains from considering new ideas, and disdains to verify new insights. It’s essentially anti-intelligent. It confuses verification with conformity; it replaces the innovations of intelligence with the parroting of dogma; it lacks the provisionality that keeps science always on the move. It’s a tyrant of stasis.”

 

Keep questioning & searching!

 

 

 

 

 

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions – Thomas Kuhn (Science Doesn’t Work The Way You Think It Does)

How does the general public think Science operates? How is it performed? How does it progress? How do working scientists assist and enable progression into revised and new theories over time?

 

The Misconception

Most laity and fans of science typically think of science this way:

  • It’s an objective search for truth and reality of all things in nature and the universe.
  • It adheres strictly to the Scientific Method and yields results leading to welcomed changes, improvements and refinements in the field of study.
  • Science progresses one new discovery after another in a smooth, continuous, linear and cumulative effort; an ever-increasing body of knowledge over time.
  • Scientists willingly look for new discoveries and readily adapt their field of study by revising their theories and adopting new ones that better reflect an accurate representation of nature and reality as they are discovered. Scientists follow the evidence wherever it may lead.
  • This progression is a peaceful process where the ideal values of science easily convince scientists that old theories need to be replaced by new and better theories that improve the field.

We picture scientists constantly searching for truth and reality through experiment and observation.  We assume their theories transform from one version to another very naturally as new empirical data and discoveries overturn or modify prior theories and beliefs.

Empiricism rules the day and leads to a more accurate picture and representation of nature and reality.  Science dominates our discovery and enlightenment!

<sigh>

Such a naive, inaccurate view.  If it only really worked that way.

 

The Reality

Enter Science Historians & Philosophers – specifically Thomas S. Kuhn. Science historians research and identify how science really operates and progresses over time. They look beyond the sugar-coated, oversimplified image presented to everyone – scientist and laity both.

In 1962 Mr. Kuhn published his seminal work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It shook the scientific community because it cracked open that naively-construed exterior of smooth, brick-upon-brick, linear and cumulative scientific progress that everyone just assumed to be true. What follows is a summary of Kuhn’s findings and concepts, as well as my thoughts on his findings.

It turns out that rather than a steady, cumulative, peaceful path to current understanding, the true path is littered with example after example of paradigms being steadfastly and pigheadedly fought, supported and defended – even in the face of profound, objective proof and evidence of a better alternative paradigm – only to eventually be usurped by that superior/alternative paradigm.  This process sometimes left some senior scientists of a ‘traditional’ paradigm out in the cold as they refuse to accept the new paradigm that changed their scientific frontier in a revolutionary way.

This convoluted process can take from decades to over 100 years before real scientific progress is made in a given field.

 

Paradigms

The origins of the word “paradigm” have been around since the Greeks/Romans and is defined as representing a pattern, model or example.  But it wasn’t until Kuhn’s work that the word became grounded in its contemporary definition.

According to Kuhn, a paradigm is a framework – the framework of acceptable concepts, theories, assumptions, vocabulary, methods, equations, experiments, methods, skills, standards, data capture and analysis – all used by a community of scientists while operating within an accepted, prevailing, controlled orthodoxy. Simply . . . .it’s the rigid, dominating world-view currently in control.

Kuhn states that a paradigm drives what he calls “normal science.”  It’s adopted, shared and guarded by a mature scientific community. And interestingly enough, because of the framework noted above, a paradigm drives interpretation.

“A paradigm is prerequisite to perception itself. What a man sees depends both upon what he looks at and also upon what his previous visual-conceptual experience has taught him to see.”   – Thomas Kuhn

So, how does science actually work and progress?

  • Science is a subjective search for data and results that will confirm the prevailing orthodox paradigm.
  • Most science is “Normal Science” – aka Paradigm science.
  • It uses only standards, expectations, assumptions and laboratory equipment designed to confirm the prevailing orthodox paradigm.
  • Results are typically known in advance – based on the methods, standards and expectations of the prevailing paradigm.
  • Normal science is not looking for novelty, new discoveries, anomalies, or any other revelations that could rock the foundations of that prevailing paradigm and lead to a more accurate picture of reality.
  • When experimental and observational anomalies do arise that could lead to new discovery they are typically not noticed, ignored, or at some point intentionally suppressed.
  • When those anomalies become so numerous and tenacious that they can’t be ignored, ad-hoc adjustments are made to the prevailing paradigm in attempts to allow the new anomalous data to be accounted for.
  • When that fails, some scientists make new discoveries and adopt a new paradigm – but not without great resistance and battle from those holding tight to the reigns of the controlling power of the prevailing paradigm.
  • Science progresses with extreme difficulty from one paradigm to another, sometimes waiting 50 to 100 years for the resisting guardians of the prevailing paradigm to die off and allow newer practitioners to pursue the new paradigm.
  • This process is really never peaceful.

“Mopping-up operations are what engage most scientists throughout their careers. They constitute what I am here calling normal science. . . . that enterprise seems an attempt to force nature into the preformed and relatively inflexible box that the paradigm supplies. No part of the aim of normal science is to call forth new sorts of phenomena; indeed those that will not fit the box are often not seen at all. Nor do scientists normally aim to invent new theories, and they are often intolerant of those invented by others. Instead, normal-scientific research is directed to the articulation of those phenomena and theories that the paradigm already supplies.”   – Thomas Kuhn

This isn’t what you expected is it?

Read on . . .

 

What is a Scientific Revolution and what causes it?

According to Kuhn science progresses through the following stages:

  1. Pre-paradigm science
  2. Normal science (paradigm science)
  3. Crisis
  4. Revolutionary science (paradigm shift)
  5. Post-revolution

Let’s take a look at what these stages mean:

Pre-paradigm science is what occurs prior to science adopting it’s first acceptable paradigm – or, alternately, where it find itself after a state of Crisis and searching/experimenting for new solutions to unsolved problems the existing paradigm can’t fully resolve.  It’s a flurry of various undirected hypotheses and experiments in an attempt to find a path to an acceptable theory or set of theories (a new paradigm).

Normal science is conducted once a paradigm has been accepted by the majority of a scientific community in a field of study.  It’s “established” and becomes the “mature” science and is where all scientific work is funded and directed.  All future work is conducted within the parameters and expectations of the prevailing orthodox paradigm.

But at some point during normal science, the framework (equipment, experimentation, observation, data gathering) suddenly produces output that doesn’t fit the existing paradigm.  Those unexpected results are referred to as an anomaly. Anomalies “violate deeply entrenched expectations.”  When not ignored, anomalies are an awareness that something is wrong with the current paradigm.

Those practicing normal (paradigm) science are not equipped educationally or perceptually to deal with the anomalies. So, how does the paradigmatic scientific community deal with anomalies?  Resistance.

“Normal science does not aim at novelties of fact or theory and, when successful, finds none. . . . .Discovery commences with the awareness of anomaly, i.e., with recognition that nature has somehow violated the paradigm-induced expectations that govern normal science”  – Thomas Kuhn

Anomalies refuse “to be assimilated to existing paradigms.”

“Its defenders [the paradigm] will do what we have already seen scientists doing when confronted by an anomaly. They will devise numerous articulations and ad hoc modifications of their theory in order to eliminate any apparent conflict.” – Thomas Kuhn

Crisis is what occurs once a set of anomalies becomes too great to ignore, and some scientists start questioning the prevailing paradigm and begin searching for other answers. These scientists are typically young and have not yet totally invested themselves entirely in the prevailing orthodox paradigm. In fact, periodically, some even come from outside the field of the orthodox paradigm. The ad hoc adjustments made to the existing paradigm are not enough to account for the anomalous data.

“In so far as he [the scientist] is engaged in normal science, the research worker is a solver of puzzles, not a tester of paradigms. . . . . Unanticipated novelty, the new discovery, can only emerge to the extent that his anticipations about nature and his instruments prove wrong.” – Thomas Kuhn

Crisis leads to new discoveries via the next step, Revolutionary Science.

Revolutionary science comes about when one or more of those questioning scientists actually has an epiphany (what Kuhn calls a “gestalt switch” or “paradigm shift”). They suddenly experience the “scales falling from their eyes” or a “lightning flash” and they see a whole new paradigm/reality.

They perform experiments, share data, argue with the protectors of the prevailing paradigm. Over time other scientists also start experiencing the “gestalt switch” and fall into the camp of the revolutionaries. Kuhn notes that this gestalt switch does NOT typically occur based on logic, reason and empirical evidence (as you would expect a scientist to adhere to and respect). It comes suddenly and sometimes in one’s sleep.

Ultimately, the change from one paradigm to another is scientific revolution. As previously mentioned above, it’s almost always someone young and not yet totally immersed and invested in the existing paradigm (or periodically it’s someone outside the specialization of the prevailing paradigm).

“Almost always the men who achieve these fundamental inventions of a new paradigm have been either very young or very new to the field whose paradigm they change. This generalization about the role of youth in fundamental scientific research is so common as to be cliche. Furthermore, a glance at almost any list of fundamental contributions to scientific theory will provide impressionistic confirmation.” – Thomas Kuhn

The interesting thing about paradigm change in science is that most often the scientists are dealing with the same set of data – it’s just that some of them suddenly “pick up the other end of the stick” – being able to see a new way of relating the data in a different framework.

“Rather than being an interpreter, the scientist who embraces a new paradigm is like the man wearing inverting lenses. Confronting the same constellation of objects as before and knowing that he does so, he nevertheless finds them transformed through and through in many of their details. . . . The scientist after a revolution is still looking at the same world.” – Thomas Kuhn

Post-revolution science occurs once a new paradigm-shifting theory becomes accepted by a vast majority of the scientific community. At this point the revolutionary science (new paradigm) becomes itself the prevailing paradigm –  a new “first principle.” Sometimes the older protectors of the prior paradigm never adopt to the new/accepted paradigm – so, after a time, they are simply “written out” or die off.

 

Advantage of Normal Science

There are advantages of Normal (Paradigm) Science.  It allows a group of practitioners to study a small range of problems in a level of “detail and depth that would otherwise be unimaginable.”  It leads to an extremely high level of precision in terms of the affirmation of the details of the prevailing paradigm.

Normal Science = articulation of the prevailing paradigm to a great depth

But, at what cost?

 

Why Don’t we Hear About Scientific Revolutions?

The overlapping reasons Scientific Revolutions are invisible include Education, Textbooks, Community/Authority:

Education

From an education perspective, students of science are not taught the history of their field.  There’s no reading of the “classics” as it exists in almost all other college education (music, art, literature, history, philosophy, social sciences, etc.). Students of science are given a thorough summary of all accepted paradigm beliefs, standards and expectations.  Their brains are pummeled into “understanding” that what they are taught is the ultimate truth for this field of study.

“Of course, it is a narrow and rigid education, probably more so than any other except perhaps in orthodox theology.” – Thomas Kuhn [emphasis mine]

Textbooks

What is the primary driving factor in scientific education?  Textbooks.

Kuhn refers to the use of textbook education as “initiation.”  Science students have no alternative. Textbooks “expound the body of accepted theory.” They are written so it appears that science progresses smoothly and progressively without conflict. They control how science is perceived and how it is understood to progress. Kuhn says that textbooks are “pedagogic vehicles for the perpetuation of normal [paradigm] science.”

“Textbooks thus begin by truncating the scientist’s sense of his discipline’s history and then proceed to supply a substitute for what they have eliminated. Characteristically, textbooks of science contain just a bit of history, either in an introductory chapter or, more often, in scattered references to the great heroes of an earlier age. From such references both students and professionals come to feel like participants in a long-standing historical tradition. Yet the textbook-derived tradition in which scientists come to sense their participation is one that, in fact, never existed. For reasons that are both obvious and highly functional, science textbooks (and too many of the older histories of science) refer only to that part of the work of past scientists that can easily be viewed as contributions to the statement and solution of the text’s paradigm problems. Partly by selection and partly by distortion, the scientists of earlier ages are implicitly represented as having worked upon the same set of fixed problems and in accordance with the same set of fixed canons that the most recent revolution in scientific theory and method has made seem scientific. No wonder that textbooks and historical tradition they imply have to be rewritten after each scientific revolution. And no wonder that, as they are rewritten, science once again comes to seem largely cumulative.” – Thomas Kuhn

Much akin to “history is written by the victors,” science textbooks are written in the aftermath of a scientific revolution and they simply gloss over the actual revolutionary steps in scientific history to arrive at the current paradigm.

“Inevitably . . . . the member of a mature scientific community is, like the typical character of Orwell’s 1984, the victim of a history rewritten by the powers that be. Furthermore, that suggestion is not altogether inappropriate.” – Thomas Kuhn

Wow.

Community/Authority

Kuhn emphasizes that a paradigm is wholly owned, supported and defended by a mature scientific community. That community is led by the authorities of that prevailing scientific paradigm.

The student is fully expected to adhere to the professional expectations of the prevailing paradigm. The student really has no other option than unquestioned acceptance.

The community has “unparalleled insulation” from the demands of the everyday world, as well as any challenges that could be presented by other scientific specialties (scientific, engineering, etc).

“Revolutions have proved to be so nearly invisible. Both scientists and laymen take much of their image of creative scientific activity from an authoritative source that systematically disguises – partly for important functional reasons – the existence and significance of scientific revolutions.” – Thomas Kuhn

“For the sciences, like other professional enterprises, do need their heroes and do preserve their names. Fortunately, instead of forgetting these heroes, scientists have been able to forget or revise their works. The result is a persistent tendency to make the history of science look linear or cumulative, a tendency that even affects scientists looking back at their own research.” – Thomas Kuhn

 

Progress only through the deaths of “authorities”?

In several places within Kuhn’s work he refers to the unfortunate result of scientific revolutions wherein it sometimes requires 50 to 100+ years before a new paradigm is taken seriously and adopted by the scientific community.  He even quotes Max Planck’s famous statement:

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”  – Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. F. Gaynor (New York, 1949), pp. 33-34

Other pertinent and revealing quotes around this concept:

“Though some scientists, particularly the older and more experienced ones, may resist indefinitely, most of them can be reached in one way or another.” – Thomas Kuhn

“The older schools gradually disappear. In part their disappearance is caused by their members’ conversion to the new paradigm. But there are always some men who cling to one or another of the older views, and they are simply read out of the profession, which thereafter ignores their work. . . . Those unwilling or unable to accommodate their work to it must proceed in isolation or attach themselves to some other group.” – Thomas Kuhn

“Gradually the number of experiments, instruments, articles, and books based upon the [new] paradigm will multiply. Still more men, convinced of the new view’s fruitfulness, will adopt the new mode of practicing normal science, until at last only a few elderly hold-outs remain. And even then, we cannot say, are wrong. Though the historian can always find men – Priestley, for instance – who were unreasonable to resist for as long as they did, he will not find a point at which resistance becomes illogical or unscientific. At most he may wish to say that the man who continues to resist after his whole profession has been converted has ‘ipso facto’ ceased to be a scientist.” – Thomas Kuhn

 

My thoughts on Kuhn’s work and what it reveals

Does the above array of behavior sound like a desirable and acceptable way to conduct science?

The reality is that science is fraught with idiotic human frailties that should be transcended for the ultimate benefits of scientific progress – the pursuit of truth and reality, reason and rationality – but instead are held hostage by stupidities.

Resistance, cognitive biases, professional hubris, total indoctrination of students, progress only via gatekeeper deaths. . . . Unbelievable.

We tend to revere scientists as arbiters of objective, empirical evidence, accurate and reliable truths, reason and logic over irrationality, the ability to operate above silly human cognitive errors.  Yet, we find that they’re like everyone else:  . . . . stupidly retaining flawed theories simply because of cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, group-think, and other ego-driven stupidities that blind them from immediately and effectively pursuing the path of truth and reality – a more accurate picture of nature and reality.

In addition, Kuhn doesn’t specifically call this out, but it seems that authority figures in a prevailing paradigm essentially defend their turf at all costs. We seem to find senior paradigm owners doing anything they can to maintain control over their field…..the field they’ve invested their entire career (teaching, researching, writing, professing); emotional investment, professional investment, and ego-driven investment – – – – logic, reason and empiricism be damned!

This is disgusting; absolutely disgusting. The pursuit of natural truths and reality should NEVER wait or delay for a generation of senior scientists to die. It should NEVER wait for blind dogma to finally acquiesce to overwhelming objective reality. The path of science should always be driven by objective evidence and objective analysis of that evidence.

Prevailing, orthodox, paradigm science is dogma – a repressive community of “scientists” who squash anything and everything that threatens their power structure.  It has become a new type of religion.

Are you seeing why Kuhn calls it a revolution?  New ideas that threaten a paradigm are NOT readily accepted.  They are ignored, denied, denigrated – until such time that they are blatantly obvious to the scientific community – or the controllers of the paradigm die off.  At some point the majority (and usually new practitioners) see the new theories for what they are – revelations in the field – and accept them as such based on their own, recent and valid science.

Instead of doing what science should do and objectively searching and testing the paradigm against actual nature/reality, the TRUE concern is over the current paradigm owners’ losing face/ego/stature/ownership/notoriety/authority/respect/prominence/etc. against a competing, threatening new paradigm. Existing paradigm owners have their ENTIRE career grounded in, and invested towards, the prevailing orthodox paradigm.

Does this sound like science by the scientific method?

It’s dogma . . . plain and simple. Where is Intellectual Integrity in this process?

 

Is there a solution?

Perhaps two camps (communities) of science need to coexist simultaneously for each field in order to more rapidly progress science to attain the most accurate understanding of nature:

  • Normal (paradigm/orthodox) science
  • Questioning/challenging/heterodox/paradigm-breaking/extraordinary science

Use the competition to push scientific research results as rapidly as possible.

There’s always the issue of funding – which I will cover in another article. Briefly . . . funding always comes from either government or corporations and neither group are interested in pursuing science for its purist motives – objective reality. Those that fund science expect the results they’re paying for (not objective reality).

I’m PRO-science – if it’s done properly. I abhor dogma, whether science or religion. I cannot abide by ego-driven stupidities; ignoring reality; fraudulent activities; . . . all to protect the prevailing paradigm. When science and its self-anointed god-priest authorities refuse to address questions and challenges to its base theories and assumptions, then it has become nothing more than another religion.

Remember:  Science is NEVER settled. The concept of “settled” science is the antithesis of real science.

In the end . . . Nature cares not a whit about fitting a prevailing paradigm. Nature is the ultimate arbiter of truth and reality. Question everything. Don’t accept orthodox answers (to science, religion, politics or any element of belief and culture).

Carpe diem my friends!

 

 

 

Total Solar Eclipse – August 2017

Since I just posted about this week’s Lunar Eclipse, I may as well also post about our 2017 Total Solar Eclipse experience. The United States was treated to a rare opportunity to see a total solar eclipse as it traveled across the continent on August 21, 2017. I promised myself when I was a kid while watching the 1970 eclipse on TV, that I would make a point of directly experiencing the totality of the next one in 2017.

The path is noted here:

Path of the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse – by USFWS Mountain-Prairie, CC BY 2.0

Since the path was so close to us here in Kentucky, I decided to book a hotel room nine months before the event. I wanted to find something in Hopkinsville, KY where the maximum totality on the continent would be experienced. Even with very little media press nearly a year ahead of the eclipse, all hotel rooms in Hopkinsville were already booked. Amazing. I found a hotel nearby in Clarksville, TN which was still in the path of totality for a duration of 2-1/2 minutes.

My wife Debbie, brother Steve and his wife Amanda took the trip. I also took along my 6-inch Celestron Dobsonian telescope with solar filter. It’s not proper equipment for solar eclipse photography (which I don’t own), but it would help get a closer view of the impending totality as the moon slowly crept across the solar disk.

We arrived the day before and spent a little time wandering around Hopkinsville (aka Eclipseville):

After spending the night in Clarksville, we decided to stay there in the hotel parking lot rather than try to drive up towards the insanity in Hopkinsville. Our hotel owners were very pleasant and had no problem with us hanging around, so we set-up for picnicking and refreshments under the shade:

We set-up the telescope with its filter, donned our solar eclipse glasses and waited for the moon to start covering the sun:

After awhile, others who decided to hang around came to visit with us and look at the progress through the telescope:As we got closer to the time of totality, we started seeing crescent shadows as the sunlight filtered through tree leaves:

Here’s a photo a bystander took through the eyepiece of my telescope. You can see the orb of the moon covering about 80% of the sun disk:

Our family looking at the eclipse just before totality:

Totality!  Unfortunately, my phone’s camera just couldn’t take an acceptable picture of the sun’s corona glowing around the dark disk.  Had I been less excited I may have had the presence of mind to remove the solar filter on the telescope and try to shoot a pic through the eyepiece; but that didn’t happen.  🙁

Again, this pic of totality doesn’t correctly show the dark disk with corona:

And this is what totality looks like. I incorrectly expected near-total darkness. Instead, it’s mostly dark (like very late dusk) but there’s a gold/red glow on the horizon that you see all 360-degrees around you:

And this photo during totality is much brighter than it was in reality.  You can see that everyone removed their eclipse glasses and are looking directly at the sun during totality.  We had to make sure to put those glasses back on as we approached the end of the 2-1/2 minutes of darkness:

Totality finished, the bright sun returned, and eclipse glasses back on our eyes:

We didn’t hang around to watch the moon’s shadow recede off the sun.  We knew traffic back to Louisville would be nuts, so we loaded up and hauled ourselves back home. And, yes, traffic was horrendous on the return trip.

Was it worth it?  Oh, yes – – VERY worth it!  We found out from friends that if you weren’t actually in the direct path of totality, the sun still looked relatively normal with essentially no darkening of the sky (even though 95%-plus of the sun was covered for their location).  So, definitely worth it to be in the actual path.

I’m SO pleased we took the plunge and made the trip into totality.  We’re already planning to travel to near my brother in Evansville, IN for the next total solar eclipse in April 2024.

Carpe diem my friends!

 

Total Lunar Eclipse – January 2019

Sunday night January 20, 2019 we were treated to relatively clear skies in Louisville, KY for a total lunar eclipse.  I stepped outside into the frigid cold before midnight to have a look just prior to, and into the time of totality.  What a beautiful red hue this magical orb took on! It was called a “super blood wolf moon eclipse.”

I don’t yet have my recently-purchased (used) Meade LX200 Classic 10-inch telescope up and running.  Once I do, it will be able to track objects in the night sky which will allow nice photography. In its absence I was stuck with trying to shoot an image using my smartphone.  Yes, it’s a bit blurry, but you get the idea of what the full moon looked like that night:

Standing in the driveway, alone in the cold, silence everywhere, no-one else around with enough interest to come out and look . . . it was a brief, romanticized adventure into the wonders of the cosmos. I love the awe-inspiring Universe!

Can’t wait to get full use of the computerized telescope with Go-To functionality.

🙂

 

The Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse of 2019: A Red Lunar View! – Space.com

How to see the ‘super blood wolf moon eclipse’ in the Louisville area – Courier-Journal.com

 

 

 

W. Barry Bizot, M.D. – Modern Renaissance Man

 

Recently, while reading the local newspaper’s obituaries I came across an entry for a certain W. Barry Bizot, M.D. I didn’t know Mr. Bizot, but his obit touched my soul with who he was, and what he represented. His life resonated with me.

Mr. Bizot was a modern day Renaissance Man. His obit writer even noted him as such. I only wish I could have known this individual; to have befriended him and been inspired by his interests and life. People like him are a rarity in today’s mundane world. They should be celebrated, recognized and singled out at as true heroes. They are the needles in humanity’s haystack.

I’m copying his entire obit here, in case it ever disappears from the ever-so-ephemeral internet:
(emphasis is mine)

W. Barry Bizot, M.D.

Louisville – William Barry Bizot, M.D. aged 70, died July 20, 2018 after a long struggle with cancer. Born in Louisville, KY in 1947, he lived much of his early adult life in New England.

In 1992 he returned to Louisville, where he became Chief of Internal Medicine for the region’s largest HMO. His principal area of focus was hospital medicine. He was one of the early organizers of what would later evolve into hospitalist internal medicine groups. He took semi-retirement 3 years ago and continued to work several months per year in under-served rural hospitals.

Barry had a varied academic background. His original college major was History/Archaeology. In 1967 he spent a year abroad working on an excavation in Palestine. The Six-Day Arab-Israeli War cut short his archeological work and forced him to pass several weeks as a refugee. Living in the immediacy of a war situation was a formative experience. It brought him to understand that learning in the service of practical human problems was closer to his nature than pure scholarship. This eventually led him to choose a career in medicine.

The change to medicine necessitated a change of major and a second round of college. He paid for this by working days as a commercial artist and studying math and biology at night. He did his medical training at the University of Louisville, Yale University, Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Liverpool.

He felt that medicine taught him more about life than any other experience. The sight of everyday people in times of pain and loss, coping with courage and dignity inspired him and structured his concept of what human worth truly is. He was calm and focused; the kind a person you would want around in a crisis.

An added benefit of his career choice was meeting his future wife, Mary Lewis Bizot. She was two years ahead of him in Medical school. They shared numerous interests both inside and outside of medicine. Above all, both loved the sea and everything nautical. Both were passionate about travel. They soon joined in a lifelong quest for all that was unique, authentic and genuinely uplifting.

Barry was a modern day renaissance man, endlessly curious wanting to know, to see, to learn. He was fun to be around: interesting and engaging. He was often teased about his overly intellectual ways. He laughed as hard as anyone else about it. He paired a hungry mind with an egalitarian spirit. He felt that there was something to be learned from most situations and all people. Whatever topic captured his curiosity became the object of intense and long-lasting focus.

In their fifties, Mary and he embarked on learning a second language, French. This lead to finding his second family in Bretagne and many explorations of the French culture, gastronomy, wine and countryside; each door opening another.

An avid non-fiction reader, he amassed a lifetime’s store of knowledge which he could summon on the spot when needed. History, politics, art, jazz, investing were just a few of his favorite topics. One seldom had to rent a guide tape when going to a gallery or a museum with him. Just be prepared for an earful when asking questions. There was often a large gap between his exuberance for the subject and the average listener’s desire for detail.

A gifted artist, he expressed his talent through the physicality of craft. He loved the entire process of taking a project from concept, to design, to completion: projects that involved engineering, math, combined with beauty. Of these endeavors woodworking was his main love, though he ventured into stained glass, sculpture, and other media.

Barry’s creativity shone through in everything he did. He was full of ideas for projects and dreams of travel, all following the path less traveled. He was a perfectionist always in the pursuit of beauty and a unique adventure of his own invention.

His quiet exterior tended to mask the sociable personality underneath. He valued his friendships more than anything else he had.

He believed in the power of the written word and chose this somewhat old fashioned means for staying connected with far flung friends and family. He saw little need for social media.

Foremost, Barry had a dry and quiet mirth. Like his father and grandfather before him, he regarded folly, vanity and absurdity as the angels’ gift to the comically inclined. He used humor for navigating life right until the end.

He is survived by his wife, Dr. Mary Lewis Bizot, his sister Beth Bizot of Louisville, and his sister Suzanne Bizot of Windham, NH.

Service will be held 10 AM Friday, July 27, 2018 at Highland Presbyterian Church, 1011 Cherokee Rd. Visitation will be held 5-7 PM Thursday, July 26, 2018 at Pearson’s, 149 Breckenridge Ln. His ashes will be spread at sea near Martha’s Vineyard. Latitude: 41.29.83 North, Longitude: 70.31.04 West, Water Depth 75′.

In lieu of flowers, friends and family are asked to make contributions Living Water for the World c/o Highland Presbyterian Church 1011 Cherokee Rd. Louisville, KY 40204 Donations can also be made to Kentucky Refugee Ministries at https://kyrm.org/give/donate-funds/ or via mail at 969B Cherokee Road, Louisville, KY 40204. Please put “In honor of Barry Bizot, M.D.” in the memo line.”

Published in The Courier-Journal on July 22, 2018

 

Life-long learner. Eternal curiosity. Accomplished craftsman. Beauty lover. Artist. Creator. Traveler. Knowledge Adventurer. Project-oriented. Independent. Self-starter. Self-sufficient. Socially capable. Genuine sense of humor. Renaissance Man. A shining star amidst the world’s baseness and senseless inanity.

A consummate human being, one who will be sorely missed on this planetary orb, even if I never knew him. Rest in peace my unknown friend.

 

 

Sources:

 

As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine:  http://archive.org/web/web.php    It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.

 

Montserrat, Spain

On our recent trip to Spain we made sure to visit Montserrat outside of Barcelona.  Most recently featured in Dan Brown’s book Origin our traveling crew felt we had to include it on our itinerary.  We were not disappointed.  In fact, it was one of the highlights of our trip.

What made it so special?

  • The history – It’s an operating monastery and abbey since 1025 AD
  • The uniqueness – Home to the Catalonian “Black Madonna” statue
  • The wonder – Built high atop the Montserrat mountains
  • The awe – Spectacular grounds and panoramic views of the countryside

We took an hour train ride from Barcelona northwest to the Montserrat mountain range . . . .Photo by Josep Renalias – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Montserrat means “serrated mountain” in Catalan, which describes the appearance of the range; as it looks like a jagged saw tooth.  It’s Spain’s first National Park, and its tallest peak is Sant Jeroni at 1,236 meters (4,055 feet).

The Montserrat Abbey is nestled high in that range and is accessible three ways:  by road, the Montserrat Rack Railway, or the Aeri de Montserrat cable car. We opted for the cable car ride up to the abbey which is located right next to the rail line stop.

Once you arrive at the abbey you also have the option of taking two funiculars for further exploration and adventure:

  • Funicular de Sant Joan goes further up to near the top of the mountains and its various trails to several peaks and/or a path back down to the abbey.
  • Funicular de la Santa Cova descends below the abbey to a path leading towards various shrines and the cave where the statue of the Black Madonna (Our Lady of Montserrat) was reportedly found more than 1,100 years ago.

 

Some History

There are various caves in the mountain range due to its geological formations.  The first evidence of their use by hermits was back in the 7th century AD, with them erecting tiny chapels at various spots throughout the range over the centuries.  Moorish occupation occurred during the 8th & 9th centuries.  Wilfred The Hairy (Count of Barcelona) regained these lands from the Islamic armies, wherein documentation shows he donated some of it to the Monastery of Ripoll in 888 AD, including the various chapels of Montserrat.

According to legend the statue of The Black Madonna (“La Moreneta”) was found in 880 AD by pastors from the town of Monistrol while grazing their flocks on the mountain. At dusk the pastors saw a light and heard heavenly singing in a place on the mountain. A beam of light was coming from a cave where they found the holy statue. They tried moving it to the town of Manresa but after a short distance it become frozen in place and unmovable.  The Ripoll monks decided to build a church and worship the Lady at that spot, erecting the chapel of Santa Maria. Then about 1025 AD they built the monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat next to the chapel.

Work on the present church began in 1560. Historically there were twelve individual hermitages in Montserrat, but they fell into disuse and destruction during the French War when Napoleon’s troops sacked and burned the abbey and its chapels in 1811. Reconstruction of the abbey and monastery did not start again until 1872 based on the plans of architect Francisco de Paula del Villar Lozano. The reconstruction was consecrated as a basilica in 1881 when Our Lady of Montserrat was proclaimed Patron Saint of Catalonia. Many artists employed in the reconstruction were linked to the Art Nouveau movement (known as Modernism in Catalonia).

The abbey’s facade was reconstructed between 1942 and 1968 after the Spanish Civil War – during which saw the violent suppression of the Abbey. It was a sanctuary for scholars, artists, politicians and students during and after the war, and was seen as a symbol of Catalan nationalism.

It was restored again between 1991 and 1996. There are numerous side chapels with beautiful art and architecture from the late 1800s and beyond. The monastery is still functioning with about 70 Benedictine monks. It remains Catalonia’s most important religious retreat.

 

The views are spectacular and we had a wonderful lunch in the formal dining room full of fantastic panoramic windows.

The only places we didn’t get to visit were the Museum and lower funicular (lack of time and energy) and the abbey’s library, cloister and gardens – – which I don’t believe were accessible to the general public – although, I tried getting into the gardens….   🙂

Why was this a visit we wanted to make – particularly since it’s religious and I’m a heretic?  Well….three reasons:

  1. Adventure – seeing an exotic and unique place in another part of the world
  2. Beauty – experiencing the amazing beauty of not only the art, architecture and landscaping, but also the impressive natural mountains and spectacular views
  3. Awe & Wonder – seeing something that was built high upon a mountain, destroyed, rebuilt and a dedication that has endured throughout 12-centuries of frail human existence.

 

Johannes Janssonius engraving of 1657:

 

Images

The following images were photographed by me and are governed by Creative Commons License Attribution-ShareAlike – CC BY-SA  (except otherwise noted)

 

<click on the images for a larger photo>

Arrival and cable-car up to the Monastery

First view of Montserrat Monastery from our arriving train (you can see the structure in the upper-right side of the photo):On the way up via the cable-car:

View from the top of the cable-car station:

 

The Grounds

The following image copyright Matthew Costello – all rights reserved:The monastery (left) and abbey (right):Funicular de Sant Joan:

Great view of the abbey from above: The building on the right houses various restaurants and meeting rooms for groups: Magnificent view of the Llobregat River Valley: The lower funicular station (Funicular de la Santa Cova): My wife and I and our traveling companions, Matt & Sharon Costello:

The garden lies behind that wall up there, I believe: At the entrance:Unfortunately the door was locked:

My beautiful wife in a beautiful setting:

The Stairway to Understanding” by Josep Maria Subirachs (1976):

The Viewpoint of the Apostles: A nice view we didn’t have the opportunity to see, but pictured in the tram terminal:

 

The Atrium of the Basilica

The Atrium is formed by two cloisters in front of the main entrance to the church with six stories of rooms for the monks above. The atrium floor was designed by Father Benet Martinez which reproduces the design by Michelangelo for the Campidoglio in Rome. The space is meant to be a transition between the profane and the sacred.

The following image copyright Matthew Costello – all rights reserved:

Jesus and the twelve disciples sculpted by Agapit Vallmitjana.  The three tympana reliefs are by his brother Venanci Vallmitjana depicting Bishop Urquinaona asking Pope Leo XIII to proclaim Our Lady of Montserrat as patron saint of Catolonia (center), the birth of Mary (right), and the Dormition (left):

Frescoes along the cloister:

The tomb of John of Aragon – 1528.  I love Renaissance-era sculpture!  The floor of the atrium:

 

The Basilica & Black Madonna

The statue of Our Lady of Montserrat is a gilded polychrome Romanesque carving estimated to be from the late 12th-century. The color of the face and hands of Mary and the baby Jesus are most likely due to a slow process of oxidation of the varnish as well as the action of candle smoke and oil lamps over the centuries. The hands of both Mary and Jesus were replaced due to damage from the French War in 1811. The orb in Mary’s right hand represents the sphere of the universe, and the baby Jesus holds a pineapple (it was an orb in the original version).

The church measures 68m long x 21.5m wide x 33m high.  It’s a single nave with six chapels on each side arranged between the buttresses. Above the side chapels are galleries. The side chapels artistically range from classic Renaissance in appearance up to more modern interpretations of various religious motifs.

The following image copyright Matthew Costello – all rights reserved:

High above the altar is the statue of Our Lady of Montserrat (you can see the silhouette of two people in front of it):

The passage on the right side of the church up to the statue, designed by the architect Francesc Folguera.  You first encounter the “Angel Door” with sculpted alabaster angel musicians, patriarchs, prophets, and Mary in the tympanum – completed between 1946-1948:

Continuing up the staircase we find beautiful mosaics – the holy virgins on the right and the saintly mothers on the left:

Mosaics at the niche, executed by Santiago Padrós:

The niche containing the Black Madonna. The statue is protected by a clear covering with her hand and orb exposed allowing visitors to touch it:

The following image copyright Matthew Costello – all rights reserved:

Beautiful silver doors at the bottom of both ascending and descending staircases, designed by Josep Obiols (1956):

The beautiful Chapel of the Niche, located behind the Black Madonna statue (which is in the center of the image below). Planned and constructed by the architect Villar and his son Villar i Carmona.  The chapel contains beautiful stained glass by Antoni Rigalt, mosaics by Santiago Padrós, sculpture of Saint George slaying the dragon by Agapit Vallmitjana (1893), and the dome’s mural painting by Joan Llimona.
This image copyright Matthew Costello – all rights reserved:

 

 

 

Sources:

 

As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine:  http://archive.org/web/web.php    It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.

 

 

 

 

 

Intellectual Integrity

 

What Is Intellectual Integrity?

Do you have an internal desire to uncover truth – real truth? Do you care about the accuracy of your knowledge, beliefs and claims? Does it bother you if you might be professing knowledge that’s wrong? Does reality matter to you? Do you feel the pursuit of truth deserves a thorough, honest approach and analysis?

If so, then you definitely resonate with the concept of Intellectual Integrity.

Intellectual Integrity has everything to do with . . . .

Honest Inquiry

Intellectual Integrity is a mindset of actually caring about truth for truth’s sake; not truth for convenience. You possess a humble and honest commitment to the pursuit of truth and reality wherever the evidence may lead – even if it flies in the face of cultural and societal norms, existing orthodox paradigms, or entirely against everything you’ve ever “learned” throughout your life. You question everything. You hold yourself to the same standards of evidence as you hold others. You don’t let others do your thinking for you. Your thinking is YOURS!

As my friend Tristan Aramis Valerius once said . . . . it’s an “unfiltered lens of inquiry.”

 

Admitting Limits to Your Knowledge and Beliefs

You’re honest about the limits of your knowledge and what is or isn’t factual, truthful or objective. You humbly realize and admit that the things you know and hold dear to your heart as cherished beliefs are, in fact, very possibly in error and at the very least biased and socially indoctrinated – – unquestioned directives fed to you by authority figures throughout your life.

You possess the humility to willingly step back and honestly and critically re-examine those assumptions and social-conditioned belief structures. Therefore, you’re open to admitting error and changing your cherished beliefs when the evidence dictates it.

 

Objectivity

Willingness to openly and honestly look at all sides of an issue or topic before coming to an objective, fully-considered, well-informed conclusion.  You embrace the Clinical Attitude Toward Arguments.

 

Recognizing the Subjective Influence of Cognitive Biases and Social Indoctrination

You realize the self-deceptiveness of cognitive errors can negatively influence your ability to come to an impartial, unbiased and informed opinion.  Confirmation Bias, Cognitive Dissonance, Rationalization, Paradigms, Orthodox Dogma and Social Conditioning all can – and do – cloud your ability to gain an accurate picture of the world around you. Admit that your thinking processes are flawed.  You’re human after all.

 

Intellectual Courage

Willingness to hold thoughts, values and objective truths beyond the herd.  Ignore knee-jerk emotionalism to inform your knowledge. Be cognizant when emotional triggers are pulled and buttons pushed; it’s typically a propagandist narrative being purveyed.

“Intellectual courage comes into play here, because inevitably we will come to see some truth in some ideas considered dangerous and absurd, and distortion or falsity in some ideas strongly held in our social group. We need courage to be true to our own thinking in such circumstances. The penalties for non-conformity can be severe.” – www.CriticalThinking.org

 

Admitting Ignorance When It’s Appropriate

Don’t claim more than you absolutely know for sure to be accurate and truthful. Reserve your opinion until more factual information is uncovered and known. Be willing to say that you don’t know enough to settle on a belief or opinion.  Hold to an unwillingness to jump to conclusions, particularly on the basis of little-to-no evidence.

Realize you don’t have to “take a side” in any debate or argument; at any time in your life. It’s not illegal to “sit on the fence” about an issue.

 

Informed Opinions

Understand the difference between an informed and uninformed opinion.  One is based on an open, objective, unbiased and thorough inquiry.  The other is based on a foundation of willing ignorance or stupidity.

 

Source Considerations

Realize not all sources of information are reliable, and they most likely all have biases. As difficult as it is to conceive, also realize that any claim to science, religion, spirituality, politics, economics, sociology, anthropology, archaeology, history, etc. are not settled. They can’t be considered an undeniable, unquestionable fact.  Every conclusion is based on a degree of confidence. From a science perspective, it means being open to the concept of falsification even for the most rigid of orthodox paradigms.

 

Lack of Intellectual Integrity

Intellectual Hypocrisy is all about . . . .

  • Disregard for objectivity, truth, reality, facts and accuracy
  • Stupidly maintaining past beliefs in the face of conflicting new evidence
  • Hitching onto the uninformed “opinion” of the herd
  • Allowing yourself to be manipulated by emotional triggers and propaganda
  • Refusing to challenge the existing paradigms and unquestioned norms
  • Not critically questioning what you’re “fed” to believe
  • Lazily falling back on preconceived beliefs and social conditioning
  • Worshiping at the altar of ignorance and irrationality.

 

“Intellectual Hypocrisy – a state of mind unconcerned with genuine integrity. It is often marked by deep-seated contradictions and inconsistencies. Hypocrisy is often implicit in the thinking and action behind human behavior as a function of natural egocentric thinking. Our hypocrisy is hidden from us. Though we expect others to adhere to standards to which we refuse to adhere, we see ourselves as fair. Though we profess certain beliefs, we often fail to behave in accordance with those beliefs.”  – WestSideToastMasters.com

 

Why is Intellectual Integrity Important?

Accuracy.  Integrity.  Truth.  Objectivity.

These are personal values.  Do you care about any of them?  Is integrity important to you as a value?

If you aren’t interested in accuracy or holding correct beliefs then Intellectual Integrity will mean nothing. You’ll simply be happy grabbing a single sound-bite from your biased media source, committing it to your mind and heart as fact, then spewing it out to others as unassailable gospel. Do you really want to be that person?

This is an autodidactic approach.  You won’t get objective truth from your schooling, media, movies, radio, newspaper, social media, family, friends, clergy, academics.  This is up to you.  Do you want truth?  Or do you want to default on laziness?

What is really important?

 

 

Some online sources:

 

As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine:  http://archive.org/web/web.php    It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.

 

 

 

Live an Aesthetic Life

Aesthetics

“Officially” speaking, Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty and artistic taste. But you don’t have to be a philosopher to bask in the benefits of living an aesthetic life.

Simply having a sensitivity and appreciation for beauty is a good start.  Slow down; pause; observe.  Note and appreciate those things that give you pleasure and inner satisfaction when you experience them with your senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste).  What things appeal and resonate with you?  What ignites a passion and inspires you?  What calms and pauses you for contemplative reflection?

It could be numerous things:

  • Arts (visual) – paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, photography, architecture, metalwork, mixed media, textiles
  • Arts (performing) – music, drama, dance, film
  • Literature – novels and poetry that engage your sense of beauty, inspire and transport you
  • Design – interior, auto, architecture, fashion, engineering
  • Nature – trees, shrubs, flowers, streams, waterfalls, mountains, insects, animals, landscape gardens
  • Cuisine – savoring excellent food and drink in a pleasing ambience
  • Craftsmanship – appreciating well-executed creations of others
  • Science – beautiful discoveries that provide incredible aha moments

What gives you pleasure and inner joy?  Jot down some notes about any special aesthetic things that seem to “do it” for you.  Get a clear idea on what aesthetic elements really appeal to you and give you an innate satisfaction.

 

How to Adopt a Living Aesthetic

So, after considering the beautiful and appealing things that give you pleasure and inner satisfaction, what can you do about it?  So what?

How about you make an effort to surround yourself with those resonating aesthetics?

Why?  Because regularly experiencing the appreciation and pleasure from these beautiful things provides long term benefits for your life.  They can be a powerful influence for growth, fulfillment, happiness, inspiration, accomplishments, etc.  Your overall attitude about life is improved, versus someone that doesn’t identify with aesthetics in any way.

I found an excellent article that zeroes in on the importance of living an aesthetic life:

Benefits of Living the Aesthetic Life by Victoria Raynor

She really understands the importance of aesthetics!  Her vision mirrors my own regarding its influence on our lives.  Her article, while not lengthy, packs a powerful message.

Benefits of beauty and aesthetics she mentions include: it energizes body and spirit, invigorates us, gives instant pleasure; instills interest in our lives, gets us in touch with ourselves, enables the beautiful inside us, reduces stress, ignites creativity, improves mental health, gives us focus, provides calming relaxation and happiness.

I don’t see much of a downside . . .  do you?

And, as she points out . . . we don’t need to be an authority on art, beauty and aesthetics to identify something as pleasing to us. We’re our own judge. It’s our interpretation. We decide what’s beautiful for us; what resonates with our spirit.

So…. be an Aesthete by surrounding yourself with beauty and reap its benefits.

 

Some Ideas . . .

Immerse yourself in soul-satiating aesthetics – outfit your living and working space using elements that resonate with the pleasure points in your soul (furnishings, décor, music, lighting, artistic & intellectual artifacts, collections & curios).

I have what seems like innumerable interests and passions.  Some of these I use to enhance my living aesthetics.

Some examples from my personal life:

My home office & library:

  • I love Art Deco architecture, art and design so when I created my office I decorated it in that theme.
  • I also find beauty in those things that can ignite a sense of adventure and discovery – such as intriguing scientific and navigation instruments, historic artifacts, mysterious megalithic ancient archaeological sites, mythic lands, esoteric woodcuts and symbols. So various objects in my office library reflect these inspiring themes.

 

My garage:

  • Since I was a teen, I have an interest in building, restoring and mildly customizing cars of the 50s & 60s. Along with that hobby, I find appeal in 50s-era gas stations and streamline modern design. So, when tackling the project of refinishing my garage, I chose to do it in a retro-50s style.  Streamlined curved corners to the cabinets I built, which also have a retro Formica countertop and polished aluminum counter edging (like the old dining sets of the 50s and 60s). Matching pub table and retro stools. I decorated the garage with a 1955 Tokheim gas pump, a 1953 Westinghouse wall-mount telephone (restored and working), Texaco neon clock, as well as a lot of appealing retro tin signs on the walls.  Overall, it’s a 1950s Texaco gas station and workshop theme.

 

Our home:

  • My wife and I love to create a cozy, comfortable aesthetic for our home. Appealing furniture, colors and décor that evoke a wonderful and satisfying feeling for the time we’re there.
  • We recently refinished our basement and wanted a theme of Louisville (both the city and its history, as well as the University of Louisville where we’re both alumni). Along with that we wanted a bit of a pub/tavern feel.  We achieved that and did almost all the work ourselves.

 

Our home’s landscape gardens:

  • My wife and I both are passionate about immersing ourselves in a large variety of gorgeous public gardens. We’ve visited dozens over the years and these beautiful oases have inspired us to create our own “Elysium” to immerse ourselves and kindle our spirits.

 

Travel to-and-from work:

  • In a further effort to expose myself to as much beauty as often as possible, I make it a point to drive through Louisville’s Seneca and Cherokee parks both to and from work whenever I can. I avoid the interstate and busy secondary roads with lots of traffic lights and cars.  At the same time I play beautiful music in the car, opening my windows, feel the breeze – all of it taking me away from the stress of work and traffic, focusing instead on the beauty that relaxes and reduces stress.

 

Work Office/Cube/Desk:

  • To the extent possible, enhance your workspace with items that are beautiful and inspire you.

 

Social Activities:

  • Dine and drink at restaurants that have a pleasing ambiance. Choose something other than uninspiring and cold concrete floors, dull furnishings and drab décor.  Find places that call to your soul/spirit – even if in a small way.  Dining alfresco is a favorite of ours – selecting a location that has a satisfying patio with shade, plants, fountains and a decent opportunity for people watching.  In Louisville, O’Shea’s in the Highlands is one of our favorites. Europe’s street cafés are wonderful in this aspect too.  No wonder so many great writers, poets and artists found solace and inspiration at cafés and encouraging social atmospheres throughout Europe.

 

 

A Couple of Observations . . .

I find that living an aesthetic life drives Romanticism and vice versa. They build upon, compliment and feed each other.  There’s much in the way of overlap between the two. Both celebrate beauty. Beauty is the common core.

Also, some people feel you are either an intellectual or an aesthete, but not both. I disagree.  Ideas and discoveries can be beautiful too. And an appreciation of beauty can ignite the intellectual fires within us as well. We can celebrate both beauty and ideas – the best of both worlds.

 

In summary

Surround your life and living spaces with that which pleases your eye, delights you, mystifies you, engages you, impresses you, inspires you, satiates you, resonates with you, inflames your passion, engulfs you in warmth and beauty, gives you joy, triggers your creativity, evokes comfort, fires your intellect, sparks your curiosity, drives discovery, encourages adventure, instills satisfaction, reduces stress.

It doesn’t have to happen overnight, or all at once.  Create it over weeks, months, years, decades.

Think of this living aesthetic as a canvas of personal fulfillment and fire for your spirit.

Carpe diem!

🙂

 

“It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance, for our consideration and application of these things, and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.”
– Henry James

 

“It is through art, and only art, that we can realize our perfection.”
– Oscar Wilde

 

 

 

Sources:

 

 

As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine:  http://archive.org/web/web.php    It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.

 

 

 

Wonder: From Emotion to Spirituality by Robert C. Fuller

A little over a year ago I listened to a podcast on ArtOfManliness.com entitled The Power Of Wonder wherein Brett McKay interviewed the author of a book (Robert Fuller) on the topic of Wonder.  It was particularly interesting since this topic fascinates and inspires me and it’s difficult to find references of any kind on the subject. (Not to mention that it’s the titled-focus of this web site.)  So after listening to the podcast I ordered the book.

The formal book title is: Wonder: From Emotion to Spirituality.  The author’s professional vitae reflects his major focus on religion – which the book did indeed address. However, I’m extremely appreciative of the fact that he was able to treat this subject with a broader secular approach it so deserves.

“Wonder is what sets us apart from other life forms. No other species wonders about the meaning of existence or the complexity of the universe or themselves.”
– Herbert W. Boyer

 

What is Wonder?

At the time of the publication of the book (2006) the Oxford English Dictionary defined wonder as:

The emotion excited by the perception of something novel and unexpected.

 

The current Oxford English Dictionary definition is:

A feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar.

 

A working definition noted within the book is:

The feeling state that accompanies the total organism’s response to something novel and unexpected (especially those things that strike us as especially powerful, real, true and/or beautiful.)

 

Throughout the book the author mentions many attributes of wonder.  The main components of wonder include:

  • Surprise
  • Bewilderment
  • Astonishment
  • Amazement
  • Perplexity
  • Admiration

Mr. Fuller notes that in searching the indices of his personal library of psychology books published in the last 100 years, he could not find a single mention of “wonder.”  It’s a rare emotion that is difficult to reproduce in a laboratory environment, so it’s rather ignored.

Over and over in the book, and even the podcast, he continually alludes to wonder being driven by powerful experiences of Beauty, Vitality and Truth. He also mentions Beauty, Order and Vitality although I’m not exactly clear what he means by “order.”  Perhaps he means order and harmony in the universe and nature? I really like this reference to powerful experiences of Beauty, Vitality and Truth. It resonates with me.    🙂

What things typically produce wonder?  Nature, Beauty, Music, Art, Science, Discovery, People, Love, Life, Mathematics, Geometry, Religion and Metaphysical Mysteries.

I think another significant cause of wonder is also Knowledge Adventuring.  Researching, questioning and uncovering heretofore little-known facts that leap out at you; smacking you in the face with a realization of awe and wonder about the ramifications and truth of that knowledge. As the author states, powerful displays of Truth can be a cause of wonder.

 

Wonder vs. Awe vs. Curiosity vs. Interest

An interesting element of the book were many excerpts from various sources and the author’s own thoughts to differentiate between various emotions that are easily confused with, or closely related to, wonder.

Awe – Actually….almost every mention of awe in the book is always listed in conjunction with wonder….. i.e. “awe and wonder.”  As already admitted, wonder is rarely the subject of written psychology texts, but apparently awe is even less defined – at least when it comes to distinguishing it from wonder.  It was not clear in the book as to the difference.  When awe was mentioned the typical attributes were: the presence of God; a religious experience; dread; terror; intimidation; vastness of the universe and life; the unknown and maybe unknowable.  In one instance, a source of his states that “wonder generates awe.” Interesting. Perhaps it should be that awe generates wonder?

Curiosity – Mr. Fuller spends some time discussing curiosity and how this is a more active emotion than wonder (which is said to be passive).  Curiosity is summarized as an attempt to analyze, understand and even manipulate the events and objects of our environment. It involves inquiries into the causal workings of physical reality.

Wonder – As opposed to curiosity wonder is a more passive emotion.  It has more to do with cognitive reflection and contemplation about unexpected perceptions. Reflecting on how the various parts relate to a greater whole. It induces receptivity and openness and causes us to consider life and its meaning from broader perspectives. How do we relate to the world?  How do we relate to others? What is possible? Is there a purpose in the universe? Where does existence come from? Like interest, it drives long-term constructive and creative endeavors. It has intrinsic value to the individual. Wonder causes us to philosophize.

Interest – How is interest different than curiosity and wonder? The author and his referenced sources aren’t particularly clear about this.  On the one hand he says that, like wonder, heightened interest “animates and enlivens the mind” and lures us into “constructive and creative” engagement with our surroundings. It “focuses attention” and readies us for “engagement and interaction.” It’s closest to wonder in terms of its effect on motivation.  However, as much as he relates it to wonder, it sounds like it’s more active than wonder – akin to the active emotion of curiosity rather than passive wonder.

I think all these positive emotions are beneficial to us.  It’s quite difficult to split hairs about the subtle differences and nuances among the four.  And to the non-academician – – does such bifurcation really matter?

Awe, wonder, curiosity, interest . . . .  the important aspect to register in our lives is the tremendous effect these have to enrich us SO far beyond the mundane.  What exactly are the benefits and effects of wonder and its related emotions?

 

Benefits and Effects of Wonder on Your Life

Without a doubt these incredible emotions bring enriching positives to the lives of anyone who will entertain them. The book has continual and profuse references to the benefits of experiencing wonder in our life.  It . . .

  • enriches our existence
  • produces personal fulfillment
  • stimulates growth
  • excites our imagination
  • enhances our seeking
  • invigorates us
  • provides a fresh approach to life
  • frees us of environmental conditioning
  • enables our self-direction
  • imbues the world with an alluring quality
  • engages us in self-examination
  • produces a mindful awareness of the world
  • awakens our higher-order thought
  • initiates abstract thinking
  • animates and enlivens the mind and body
  • induces us to pause, admire, and open our hearts and minds
  • kindles a reverence for life

Amazing.  Yet, the vast majority of humanity has no concept of wonder or its benefits. They meander through life impressed by nothing.

“And thus although you can surely go through life without a developed sense of wonder, it is equally true that a life shaped by wonder is attuned to the widest possible world of personal fulfillment.”
– Robert Fuller

 

Religion vs Spirituality

While Mr. Fuller comes from an academic role focused on religion – as I mentioned – he does a good job of sharing wonder in relation to both its religious and secular aspect.

One area where I cannot agree with Mr. Fuller is his claim that religious rituals and doctrines evoke wonder in people. I can understand his claim (since I presume he has a lifetime of indoctrination via many years of formal religious experience) . . . . however, even before I was a heretic, I did not find doctrine and ritual fascinating or wonderful in any way.  Years of being a Catholic, or later, a born-again Christian did not help this claim.  Unless one is ready to abandon every filament of their rational being, rituals overtly come across as inane, meaningless and manipulative; the antithesis to wonder.

As a student in Catholic elementary school I thought First Communion, Confirmation and May Procession rituals all certainly interesting, but even then, they couldn’t hold a candle to to the magic of hiking along the creek in the woods with my father. Nature rules over doctrine. Period.

Even outside of formal religion, rituals and doctrine of fraternal organizations such as Freemasonry (I was a member for a few years) are equally inane and meaningless. I could not perceive benefits or wonder of any kind beyond the fact that I was wasting valuable hours of my life experiencing silly play-acting that was somehow supposed to be mysterious and special to its participants, but which lost its true esoteric meaning and importance long, long ago.

One area I do agree is his references to various people’s connection with spirituality as it relates to nature.  Somewhere in the book he mentions it as “religious naturalism.”  I think a better term would be “spiritual naturalism.”  From my perspective the only god I ever see (if there is one) is a deistic god of nature – – nature as god.

I’ve experienced numerous occasions where I was brought to disbelief, awe, wonder and tears of joy by the sheer majesty and mystery of nature…..NEVER by anything related to orthodox religion.

 

Can Man-made Objects Cause Wonder?

Another area where I find disagreement with the author is his claim that wonder is less likely to be caused by human-made artifacts.

For anyone with even a crude understanding and appreciation of engineering and construction capabilities, there’s a myriad of man-made structures that simply leaves a viewer with slack-jawed awe and wonder.  From monstrous bridges, buildings, palaces, cathedrals, ships, statues, and huge sculptures a viewer is left dumb-struck as to how such edifices and artistic expression could possibly have been erected using the technology of the day.

The most incredible examples of this mind-blowing awe and wonder in human achievement are the innumerable ancient structures around the world built with megalithic blocks of stone. Incredible behemoth stones were quarried, lifted, transported, lifted again, finished and fitted with space-age precision – supposedly with crude tools that could not have accomplished the task at hand. Unless you possess at least a basic understanding of engineering you wouldn’t give these structures a second thought. But if you do have the capacity to see the engineering impossibilities staring you in the face, you can’t help but stand in utter disbelief and awe at the accomplishments of these ancient civilizations.

This is an example of the benefit of “knowledge adventuring” wherein we dig, educate and discover facts not previously known or admitted within the paradigms of orthodox historians.

In a similar vein, one has to simply visit the incredible structures of castles, palaces and cathedrals of Europe to be instantly in awe at the fantastic engineering, art and architecture employed. You can stand in these edifices and simply be blown away by the sheer size and complexity of their structure and artistry.  How did they accomplish it?  How did they cut, move and precisely fit these stones several hundred feet in the air when modern cranes did not exist? It’s absolutely amazing to wonder and admire these accomplishments.

Human-made artifacts aren’t likely to produce wonder?  Think again.

 

Wonder Generates Awe?

As noted above, Mr. Fuller’s book attempts to differentiate between awe and wonder, and states at one point that “wonder generates awe.”  I cannot agree.  In fact, it should be just the opposite.  Awe generates wonder.  One follows from the other; clear and simple.

When we’re exposed to a gorgeous vista, the limitlessness of the cosmos, the incredible beauty of the world around us, the mind-blowing engineering involved in constructing the world’s most impressive edifices . . .  we can’t help but be dumb-struck with awe. . . .gobsmacked by the object and beauty before us.

As I see it, these emotions progress and are triggered thus:

Awe = Gobsmacked by an experience or object.

Wonder = Reflection on the gobsmacked awe, beauty and impressiveness of what we just experienced. Philosophizing on the larger questions of how and why these incredible things are even in existence. How did they come to be?

Curiosity & Interest = The actions we take as a result of the gob-smacked awe and its resulting wonder that drives us to learn, discover, understand, assimilate and integrate the mysteries of these events and objects into our lives.

 

“Once the emotions have been aroused – a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love – then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning.”
– Rachel Carson

 

Closing Thoughts

I think an interesting study (if it could even be done) is whether people who lack a sense of wonder about the world can possibly re-develop that sense. I’m not sure. We lose much of our wonder and our senses are dulled into the mundane by years of schooling, work and cultural conditioning.

The only hope, perhaps, would be for individuals to step back away from the cultural paradigms and social conditioning and begin asking questions about those “givens.”  To be Walking Question Marks. To dig, discover, appreciate and enculture an open and awakened mind (Knowledge Adventuring). As a natural progression during this pulling away from the normal and mundane, a person will also gradually stop taking beauty, life and truth for granted. Then wonder can take hold again.

I encourage anyone to wonder about the world all around you. Pursue beauty, life and truth. Enrich your lives with the benefits produced by a sense of wonder.

 

“In wonder you realize that this is it. You have the opportunity to swim through the river of life rather than just float on it, to own your life rather than be owned by it”
– Juan De Pascuale

 

 

 

Sources:

 

As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine:  http://archive.org/web/web.php    It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.

 

 

 

 

El Escorial Library

Our trip to Spain this month found us visiting some incredible sites.  One of our notable visits (for me, at least) was the Monastery and Royal Palace of El Escorial in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial; specifically the Royal Library.

Biblioteca del monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, by Xauxa Håkan Svensson, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The library consists of several rooms (most of them no longer used), however, only the Main Hall is opened to the public.  Measuring 177 feet long, 30 feet wide and 33 feet high it’s one large, wondrous gallery of gorgeous woodwork, frescoes, globes, armillaries and books.  It was established as the Royal library by Phillip II when the palace/monastery was created in the late 16th-century.

The library is believed to have been finished about 1585.  It was the first large-room library to use the “wall system” of book storage – where the bookshelves sit flush, lined up along the walls. Prior to that, libraries used lecterns or stalls to hold and store large folios. The initial 4,000 volumes came from Philip’s personal library, as well as additional books and manuscripts belonging to the Crown but kept elsewhere.

Books were purged over the centuries, particularly by a fire in 1671, but the library still maintains about 40,000 volumes including a number of Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Arabic manuscripts.

The library was designed by architect Juan de Herrera. The Herrera-designed bookcases were built by José Flecha, Juan Senén and Martín de Gamboa. The frescoes were painted by Pellegrino Tibaldi based on a theme defined by Father José de Sigüenza. You can see the influence of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings in these Tibaldi works.

The themed friezes are anchored at each end of the hall by semicircular tympanums; the northern end is Philosophy (acquired knowledge) and the southern end is Theology (revealed knowledge). In between the two, within the seven main panels on the ceiling, are representations of the seven subjects of the liberal arts: the Trivium (Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectics) and Quadrivium (Arithmetic, Music, Geometry, Astronomy). Along the sides directly above the bookcases are images of significant historical figures and scenes corresponding to the liberal art designated on the ceiling above them.

Details about the frescoes:

The vault is occupied by personifications of the Liberal Arts and Sciences, painted di sotto in sù and surrounded by giants. In the lunettes are representations of individuals, from antiquity onwards, who had cultivated these disciplines. Scenes on the friezes refer to the trivium and quadrivium. Of the former, Grammar is represented by the School of Babylon and the Tower of Babel, Rhetoric by Hercules the Gaul and Cicero Defending Gaius Rabirius, and Dialectics or Logic by SS Ambrose and Augustine and Zeno of Elea Showing the Gates of Truth and Error.

Of the quadrivium, Arithmetic is represented by the Gymnosophists and Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Music by Orpheus Rescuing Eurydice and David Playing the Harp before Saul, Geometry by the Death of Archimedes and the Priests of Egypt Dividing the Lands and Astronomy by the Solar Eclipse at Heliopolis after the Death of Christ and King Hezekiah Contemplating the Orbit of the Sun.

Philosophy on the north wall (the School of Athens with Zeno and Socrates) and Theology on the south (Constantine the Great at the Council of Nicaea) complete the programme as the basis and goal of knowledge. The upper library is decorated with a comprehensive series of portraits of saints, pontiffs, sages and artists.

Source:  https://el-escorial.com/el-escorial-decoration/

The books are shelved with their spines inwards towards the wall; the gilt-edged pages face outwards with the title written on them – ostensibly to protect the bindings from light and allow the pages to “breathe.”  The effect is quite impressive with gold shimmering at the visitor from within the shelves.

The center of the main hall has tables with a collection of maps, globes, astrolabes, and other scientific items – including an outstanding, huge armillary sphere built by Antonio Santucci about 1582. The world and celestial globes were made by Joan Blaeu about 1660. These items conveyed the scientific dimension that Philip II desired for his library.

I was mesmerized by the room’s beauty and grandeur; and was particularly enchanted by the frescoes and what/who they represented.  I was trying my best to discover the various historic figures’ names represented in all the panels on ribbons next to each.

The library fell into neglect after Philip II’s death in 1598.  There was also the aforementioned fire in 1671.  Philip V decided to create a national library in Madrid and therefore the El Escorial library discontinued any additions to its collections.  Finally, the library was reorganized and catalogued in 1885. Thank goodness it was saved and preserved. It’s a gorgeous and magnificent tribute to knowledge, discovery and beauty!

 

Photos from our visit . . . .

 

Some additional images from Creative Commons on flickr . . .

El Escorial – astronomy ball o’ fun” by Rebecca is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

la biblioteca en el monasterio de san lorenzo” by bob is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

The Library at El Escorial” by John Keogh is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

 

 

 

Sources:

  • Jacques Bosser and Guillaume de Laubier, The Most Beautiful Libraries In The World (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003), 188-197
  • James W.P. Campbell and Will Pryce, The Library: A World History (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 2013)
  • Carmen Garcia-Frias and Jose Luis Sancho, Guide – Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial (Madrid: Patrimonio Nacional, 2017), 28-32.
  • Jérôme Coignard, Manuel Jover and Jean-François Lasnier, The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial (Connaissance des Arts), 36-39.
  • El Escorial Monastery, el-escorial.co
  • El Escorial, Wikipedia

 

As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine:  http://archive.org/web/web.php    It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.