Tag: WikiPedia

The moon and Venus

A photograph taken yesterday at 05:40 (PDT).

This was taken with a Nikon D750 from the rear deck of our house.

It has been greatly cropped and slightly adjusted in terms of contrast and shadows.

But, although I say it myself, it is an outstanding photograph! The moon is in a waning phase, about 10% illumination. Venus is just beautiful!

Here is the full moon.


And part of a Wikipedia extract:

The Moon is an astronomical body orbiting Earth and is the planet’s only natural satellite. It is the fifth-largest satellite in the Solar System, and by far[13] the largest among planetary satellites relative to the size of the planet that it orbits (its primary). The Moon is, after Jupiter‘s satellite Io, the second-densest satellite in the Solar System among those whose densities are known.

The Moon is thought to have formed about 4.51 billion years ago, not long after Earth. The most widely accepted explanation is that the Moon formed from the debris left over after a giant impact between Earth and a hypothetical Mars-sized body called Theia. New research of Moon rocks, although not rejecting the Theia hypothesis, suggests that the Moon may be older than previously thought.[14]

The Moon is in synchronous rotation with Earth, and thus always shows the same side to Earth, the near side. Because of libration, slightly more than half (about 59%) of the total lunar surface can be viewed from Earth.[15] The near side is marked by dark volcanic maria that fill the spaces between the bright ancient crustal highlands and the prominent impact craters. After the Sun, the Moon is the second-brightest celestial object regularly visible in Earth’s sky. Its surface is actually dark, although compared to the night sky it appears very bright, with a reflectance just slightly higher than that of worn asphalt. Its gravitational influence produces the ocean tides, body tides, and the slight lengthening of the day.

The Moon’s average orbital distance is 384,402 km (238,856 mi),[16][17] or 1.28 light-seconds. This is about thirty times the diameter of Earth. The Moon’s apparent size in the sky is almost the same as that of the Sun, since the star is about 400 times the lunar distance and diameter. Therefore, the Moon covers the Sun nearly precisely during a total solar eclipse. This matching of apparent visual size will not continue in the far future because the Moon’s distance from Earth is gradually increasing.

Here is a part of Wikipedia on Venus:

Venus is the second planet from the Sun. It is named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty. As the second-brightest natural object in the night sky after the Moon, Venus can cast shadows and can be, on rare occasion, visible to the naked eye in broad daylight.[15][16] Venus lies within Earth’s orbit, and so never appears to venture far from the Sun, either setting in the west just after dusk or rising in the east a bit before dawn. Venus orbits the Sun every 224.7 Earth days.[17] With a rotation period of 243 Earth days, it takes longer to rotate about its axis than any other planet in the Solar System and does so in the opposite direction to all but Uranus (meaning the Sun rises in the west and sets in the east).[18] Venus does not have any moons, a distinction it shares only with Mercury among planets in the Solar System.[19]

Venus is a terrestrial planet and is sometimes called Earth’s “sister planet” because of their similar size, mass, proximity to the Sun, and bulk composition. It is radically different from Earth in other respects. It has the densest atmosphere of the four terrestrial planets, consisting of more than 96% carbon dioxide. The atmospheric pressure at the planet’s surface is 92 times that of Earth, or roughly the pressure found 900 m (3,000 ft) underwater on Earth. Venus is by far the hottest planet in the Solar System, with a mean surface temperature of 737 K (464 °C; 867 °F), even though Mercury is closer to the Sun. Venus is shrouded by an opaque layer of highly reflective clouds of sulfuric acid, preventing its surface from being seen from space in visible light. It may have had water oceans in the past,[20][21] but these would have vaporized as the temperature rose due to a runaway greenhouse effect.[22] The water has probably photodissociated, and the free hydrogen has been swept into interplanetary space by the solar wind because of the lack of a planetary magnetic field.[23] Venus’s surface is a dry desertscape interspersed with slab-like rocks and is periodically resurfaced by volcanism.

As one of the brightest objects in the sky, Venus has been a major fixture in human culture for as long as records have existed. It has been made sacred to gods of many cultures, and has been a prime inspiration for writers and poets as the morning star and evening star. Venus was the first planet to have its motions plotted across the sky, as early as the second millennium BC.[24]

I included these excerpts from WikiPedia because many will find them of interest and quite a few, including yours truly, actually learnt something!

Other inhabited worlds, and the implications of finding one.

This is profoundly important.

Well it is to me and Jean and, I suspect, it will be to many other people.

I am an atheist. So is Jean. We have been all our lives. I think that many of you who follow this blog know that. The love that we have for our dogs, and all our animals, plus the beauty that is all around us in nature is enough. (Now I am not naive enough to realise that there are many, literally millions, that don’t have the same fortune in their lives.)

The Conversation recently republished an essay by David Weintraub that was first published in 2014. It is at the core of our existence and I am delighted to have the permission to republish it for you.


Is your religion ready to meet ET

 Professor of Astronomy, Vanderbilt University

November 5th, 2014

Square away your personal philosophy now; proof of life beyond earth is coming. Stargazing image via http://www.shutterstock.com

How will humankind react after astronomers hand over rock-solid scientific evidence for the existence of life beyond the Earth? No more speculating. No more wondering. The moment scientists announce this discovery, everything will change. Not least of all, our philosophies and religions will need to incorporate the new information.

Searching for signs of life

Astronomers have now identified thousands of planets in orbit around other stars. At the current rate of discovery, millions more will be found this century.

Having already found the physical planets, astronomers are now searching for our biological neighbors. Over the next fifty years, they will begin the tantalizing, detailed study of millions of planets, looking for evidence of the presence of life on or below the surfaces or in the atmospheres of those planets.

And it’s very likely that astronomers will find it. Despite the fact that more than one-third of Americans surveyed believe that aliens have already visited Earth, the first evidence of life beyond our planet probably won’t be radio signals, little green men or flying saucers. Instead, a 21st century Galileo, using an enormous, 50-meter-diameter telescope, will collect light from the atmospheres of distant planets, looking for the signatures of biologically significant molecules.

Astronomers filter that light from far away through spectrometers – high-tech prisms that tease the light apart into its many distinct wavelengths. They’re looking for the telltale fingerprints of molecules that would not exist in abundance in these atmospheres in the absence of living things. The spectroscopic data will tell whether a planet’s environment has been altered in ways that point to biological processes at work.

What is our place in the universe? Woman image via http://www.shutterstock.com

If we aren’t alone, who are we?

With the discovery in a distant planet’s light spectrum of a chemical that could only be produced by living creatures, humankind will have the opportunity to read a new page in the book of knowledge. We will no longer be speculating about whether other beings exist in the universe. We will know that we not alone.

An affirmative answer to the question “Does life exist anywhere else in the universe beyond Earth?” would raise immediate and profoundly important cosmotheological questions about our place in the universe. If extraterrestrial others exist, then my religion and my religious beliefs and practices might not be universal. If my religion is not universally applicable to all extraterrestrial others, perhaps my religion need not be offered to, let alone forced on, all terrestrial others. Ultimately, we might learn some important lessons applicable here at home just from considering the possibility of life beyond our planet.

In my book, I investigated the sacred writings of the world’s most widely practiced religions, asking what each religion has to say about the uniqueness or non-uniqueness of life on Earth, and how, or if, a particular religion would work on other planets in distant parts of the universe.

Extrasolar sinners?

Let’s examine a seemingly simple yet exceedingly complex theological question: could extraterrestrials be Christians? If Jesus died in order to redeem humanity from the state of sin into which humans are born, does the death and resurrection of Jesus, on Earth, also redeem other sentient beings from a similar state of sin? If so, why are the extraterrestrials sinful? Is sin built into the very fabric of the space and time of the universe? Or can life exist in parts of the universe without being in a state of sin and therefore without the need of redemption and thus without the need for Christianity? Many different solutions to these puzzles involving Christian theology have been put forward. None of them yet satisfy all Christians.

Mormon worlds

Mormon scripture clearly teaches that other inhabited worlds exist and that “the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (Doctrines and Covenants 76:24). The Earth, however, is a favored world in Mormonism, because Jesus, as understood by Mormons, lived and was resurrected only on Earth. In addition, Mormon so-called intelligences can only achieve their own spiritual goals during their lives on Earth, not during lifetimes on other worlds. Thus, for Mormons, the Earth might not be the physical center of the universe but it is the most favored place in the universe. Such a view implies that all other worlds are, somehow, lesser worlds than Earth.

Bahá’í without bias

Members of the Bahá’í Faith have a view of the universe that has no bias for or against the Earth as a special place or for against humans as a special sentient species. The principles of the Bahá’í Faith – unifying society, abandoning prejudice, equalizing opportunities for all people, eliminating poverty – are about humans on Earth. The Bahá’í faithful would expect any creatures anywhere in the universe to worship the same God as do humans, but to do so according to their own, world-specific ways.

Light years from Mecca

The pillars of the faith for Muslims require the faithful to pray five times every day while facing Mecca. Because determining the direction of Mecca correctly could be extremely difficult on a quickly spinning planet millions of light years from Earth, practicing the same faith on another world might not make any sense. Yet the words of the Qu’ran tell us that “Whatever beings there are in the heavens and the earth do prostrate themselves to Allah” (13:15). Can terrestrial Muslims accept that the prophetically revealed religion of Muhammad is intended only for humans on earth and that other worlds would have their own prophets?

Astronomers as paradigm-shatterers

Philosophers and scientists have forced worldviews to adapt in the past.

At certain moments throughout history, astronomers’ discoveries have exerted an outsized influence on human culture. Ancient Greek astronomers unflattened the Earth – though many then chose to forget this knowledge. Renaissance scholars Copernicus and Galileo put the Earth in motion around the Sun and moved humans away from the center of the universe. In the 20th century, Edwin Hubble eliminated the very idea that the universe has any center at all. He demonstrated that what the universe has is a beginning in time and that, bizarrely, the universe, the very fabric of three-dimensional space, is expanding.

Clearly, when astronomers offer the world bold new ideas, they don’t mess around. Another such paradigm-shattering new idea may be in the light arriving at our telescopes now.

No matter which (a)theistic background informs your theology, you may have to wrestle with the data astronomers will be bringing to houses of worship in the very near future. You will need to ask: Is my God the God of the entire universe? Is my religion a terrestrial or a universal religion? As people work to reconcile the discovery of extrasolar life with their theological and philosophical worldviews, adapting to the news of life beyond Earth will be discomfiting and perhaps even disruptive.


Now I don’t really want to open up the subject of religion but I will say that WikiPedia have a great entry about the subject. My own view is that a few hundred years ago, when life was a lot more mysterious and uncertain, believing in life after death made some sense.

But we know a lot better now despite death still being a certainty.


Dogs don’t need religion!

This is a good story!

It never fails to amaze me at the potential for friendship between cats and dogs.

This comes from The Dodo website. It’s one of a number of sites that I follow. I should really say more but am lost for words so here it is!


Cat Makes Sure His Dog Friend Is OK During Thunderstorm

Photo Credit: Mary Barnes

When things get scary, we all need a friend to let us know that everything’s going to be OK.

For a pittie mix named Moose, that friend is a cat named Marvin.

Mary Barnes rescued Marvin six months ago, hoping that the fearless kitty would become a playmate for her 7-year-old dog.

“I didn’t know how Moose and Marvin would get along because Moose had never really interacted with cats, but she’s the absolute sweetest and most gentle girl so I had faith,” Barnes told The Dodo.

Photo Credit: Mary Barnes

“They very quickly became best friends,” she added. “Marvin has the personality of a dog so they nap and play together all day.”

When Barnes moved into an apartment in downtown Detroit, she began to notice that Moose was becoming more and more sensitive to loud noises. Every time the pup heard fireworks or thunderstorms, she would immediately tremble and hide.

“I try to give her treats and keep her busy when it’s storming but she usually ends up going into the bathroom and hiding in the shower,” Barnes said. “She’s always hidden in the shower — it’s her safe place.”

Photo Credit: Mary Barnes

Marvin doesn’t have the same fear of thunder shaking the windows. But Barnes never could have guessed the loving cat would step up and comfort Moose in her time of need.

“Last night was the first really big, long storm we’ve gotten in Detroit since Marvin has been with us,” Barnes said. “He was very curious and concerned about his big sister.”

Marvin knew Moose was suffering and he wasn’t going to let her sit alone.

Photo Credit: Mary Barnes

“He went back and forth to her in the shower to check in,” Barnes said. “It distracted [Moose] from the storm for a little bit because she leaned down to give him kisses!”

The storm eventually passed, and Moose and Marvin quickly got back to playing and relaxing together.

If there’s one thing they both know, it’s that having a best friend can make getting through hard times a whole lot easier.


The thing about this story is that our pet dogs and cats have a number of emotions and they recognise the need to comfort other animals in the same house.

I suspect that a wide range of animals also have a number of emotions.

I allowed myself to do a quick web search on the subject – there’s loads!

Try this WikiPedia extract:

Emotion is defined as any mental experience with high intensity and high hedonic content.[1] The existence and nature of emotions in animals are believed to be correlated with those of humans and to have evolved from the same mechanisms. Charles Darwin was one of the first scientists to write about the subject, and his observational (and sometimes anecdotal) approach has since developed into a more robust, hypothesis-driven, scientific approach.[2][3][4][5] Cognitive bias tests and learned helplessness models have shown feelings of optimism and pessimism in a wide range of species, including rats, dogs, cats, rhesus macaques, sheep, chicks, starlings, pigs, and honeybees.[6][7][8] Jaak Panksepp played a large role in the study of animal emotion, basing his research on the neurological aspect. Mentioning seven core emotional feelings reflected through a variety of neuro-dynamic limbic emotional action systems, including seeking, fear, rage, lust, care, panic and play.[9] Through brain stimulation and pharmacological challenges, such emotional responses can be effectively monitored.[9]

Emotion has been observed and further researched through multiple different approaches including that of behaviourism, comparative, anecdotal, specifically Darwin’s approach and what is most widely used today the scientific approach which has a number of subfields including functional, mechanistic, cognitive bias tests, self-medicating, spindle neurons, vocalizations and neurology.

While emotions in animals is still quite a controversial topic it has been studied in an extensive array of species both large and small including primates, rodents, elephants, horses, birds, dogs, cats, honeybees and crayfish.

There’s much more and it is a comprehensive article.



Time; beyond imagination!

I don’t know what is was that engaged me; to the point that I have written this blog post.

We rise around 4:30 am, thanks to the dogs, and after they have been out we retire to the bedroom and lay on the top of the bed and have a couple of cups of tea. Come 5am, week days, we listen to BBC Radio 4 and the World at One. Then immediately after the World at One, at the moment, is a fascinating series on A History Of The World in 100 objects.

A few days ago, after the end of the programme, I drifted off into some form of introspective gaze about the past. I mean the past big time!

The Universe

When and how did it all start? That seems to be the Big Bang. The Big Bang was an incredibly long time ago, some 14 billion years ago (rounding it up!).

Here’s an extract from Wikipedia:

The current measurement of the age of the universe is around 13.8 billion years (as of 2015[1]) – 13.799±0.021 billion years within the Lambda-CDM concordance model.[2] The uncertainty has been narrowed down to 20 million years, based on a number of studies which all gave extremely similar figures for the age.

That’s 13.8 times 10 to the power of 9!

Our solar system

Again, pretty old by human standards; 4.6 billions years ago.

Again, an extract from Wikipedia:

The Solar System formed 4.6 billion years ago from the gravitational collapse of a giant interstellar molecular cloud. The vast majority of the system’s mass is in the Sun, with the majority of the remaining mass contained in Jupiter. The four smaller inner planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, are terrestrial planets, being primarily composed of rock and metal. The four outer planets are giant planets, being substantially more massive than the terrestrials. The two largest, Jupiter and Saturn, are gas giants, being composed mainly of hydrogen and helium; the two outermost planets, Uranus and Neptune, are ice giants, being composed mostly of substances with relatively high melting points compared with hydrogen and helium, called volatiles, such as water, ammonia and methane. All eight planets have almost circular orbits that lie within a nearly flat disc called the ecliptic.

So our solar system came along 9 billion years after the formation of the Universe.

Planet Earth

Our planet formed not long after our solar system. That’s pretty obvious if you ask me.

Thus Planet Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago. Again, thanks to Wikipedia.

Life on Planet Earth

Southampton University have published an extremely interesting chart of the timeline of the human condition. In it is revealed that the earliest atmospheric oxygen was 3.5 billion years ago, a necessary prerequisite to air-breathing life. But it took an extremely long time before monkeys appeared; some 36 million years ago. That’s 36 times 10 to the power of 6, or 383 times shorter than the start of the universe.

The earliest hominins (Australopithecus spp) among the hominids in Africa, bipedal, larger brain came along some 4.2 million years ago.

Among them were humans using stone tools, some 2.5 million years ago. Then 2 million years ago came the earliest direct ancestor of modern humans, Homo erectus (South Africa), co-habiting with Australopithecus and Paranthropus.

Then 40,000 years ago Neanderthals make flutes from bone, then 14,000 years ago the domestication of dogs in China, 7,000 years ago the world population passed 5 million souls, and 3,500 years ago the earliest alphabet (North Semitic, Palestine and Syria).

3,000 years ago the world population passed 50 million.

Come forward to just 195 years ago and the first public railway for steam locomotives (George Stephenson, UK, 1825) came into existence. In 1945, Alan Turing created the world’s first programmable calculator which lead directly to the first computer.

Then just 34 years ago the total population passed 5 billion souls (1986).

This and much more in the timeline which really is a fascinating read. Put together by C. Patrick Doncaster,  7 April 2020, one of the then 7,641,557,720 (rising by 148 per minute, 77 million per year).

But …

The discovery of quarks in 1968 caused us humans to think again about matter.


A quark (/kwɔːrk, kwɑːrk/) is a type of elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. Quarks combine to form composite particles called hadrons, the most stable of which are protons and neutrons, the components of atomic nuclei.[1] Due to a phenomenon known as color confinement, quarks are never directly observed or found in isolation; they can be found only within hadrons, which include baryons (such as protons and neutrons) and mesons.[2][3] For this reason, much of what is known about quarks has been drawn from observations of hadrons.

Then there’s antimatter, now that’s really weird.

Again, an extract from Wikipedia:

There is strong evidence that the observable universe is composed almost entirely of ordinary matter, as opposed to an equal mixture of matter and antimatter.[4] This asymmetry of matter and antimatter in the visible universe is one of the great unsolved problems in physics.[5] The process by which this inequality between matter and antimatter particles developed is called baryogenesis.

So, to put it in layman’s terms, the fact that I am sitting here at a computer trying to make sense of it all and failing is just down to luck. The observable universe and my perception of it comes down to matter as opposed to antimatter!

I’ve got a headache!

N.B. It’s a little after 12:30 am (PDT) on the Saturday and I am going to leave this post up as the latest for tomorrow as well. There have been so many wonderful comments.

A leap into the unknown!

A slight tongue-in-cheek title to today’s post.

Because it is a leap day!

So I’m going back a long time.

I was born towards the tail end of 1944; six months before the end of WWII in Europe.

As such I was in my early twenties when NASA came to the wider attention of millions of people with their effort to put a man on the moon. It was enthralling to look up at the night sky when a moon was present and think that in time there would be a man standing on the moon’s surface.

Now that I am 75 many things have changed. But one of them has not: Staring up at the night sky and getting lost in thought. Luckily we live in a rural location without artificial light anywhere nearby and the night skies are very clear.

All of which takes me back to my days of sailing. From 1986 until 1991 I lived on a deep-water ketch, a Tradewind 33, based in Larnaca, in Cyprus. Each Spring, I would solo across to the Turkish coast, or the Greek coast, and meet up with friends, or my son and daughter, and go coastal cruising. Then in the last year I sailed for England. I well recall seeing the night sky all around me with the stars practically down the watery horizon.

But more of that some other day. Now back to the moon.

All of which is to republish this post and I do hope you will be able to read it fully.


NASA video reconstructs the harrowing lunar journey of Apollo 13

By Michael d’Estries, February 26, 2020

NASA’s reconstruction of the moon’s far side is based off images received by its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. (Photo: NASA/Snapshot from video/YouTube)

On April 15, 1970, NASA astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise aboard Apollo 13 set a Guinness World Record for the highest absolute altitude attained by a crewed spacecraft at a distance of 248,655 miles from Earth. Nearly 50 years later, that unplanned record still stands as part of a mission beset by technical glitches and saved by engineering heroism.

“We didn’t slow down, unlike the others, when we got to the moon because we needed its gravity to get back, so we hold the altitude record,” Lowell told the Financial Times in 2011. “I never even thought about it. Records are only made to be broken.”

Gliding by the moon’s far side at an altitude of only 158 miles, the crew of Apollo 13 were, at the time, one of only a handful of humans to ever gaze upon this strange and relatively-unknown terrain of our closest neighbor. Because the moon is tidally locked, a phenomenon in which an orbiting body takes just as long to rotate around its own axis as it does to revolve around its partner, only one side ever faces the Earth.

Using imagery collected by its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, NASA has recreated views observed by Apollo 13 during the crew’s harrowing 25-minute journey around the moon’s far side.

“This video showcases visualizations in 4K resolution of many of those lunar surface views, starting with earthset and sunrise, and concluding with the time Apollo 13 reestablished radio contact with Mission Control,” the agency said in a release. “Also depicted is the path of the free return trajectory around the Moon, and a continuous view of the Moon throughout that path. All views have been sped up for timing purposes — they are not shown in ‘real-time.'”

This video uses data gathered from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft to recreate some of the stunning views of the Moon that the Apollo 13 astronauts saw on their perilous journey around the farside in 1970. These visualizations, in 4K resolution, depict many different views of the lunar surface, starting with earthset and sunrise and concluding with the time Apollo 13 reestablished radio contact with Mission Control. Also depicted is the path of the free return trajectory around the Moon, and a continuous view of the Moon throughout that path. All views have been sped up for timing purposes — they are not shown in “real-time.” Credits: Data Visualization by: Ernie Wright (USRA) Video Produced & Edited by: David Ladd (USRA) Music provided by Universal Production Music: “Visions of Grandeur” – Frederick Wiedmann

According to Lowell, despite the astronauts’ extremely close proximity, the moon was not the most awe-inspiring scene outside the spacecraft window.

“The impression I got up there wasn’t what the moon looked like so close up, but what the Earth looked like,” he said.

“The lunar flights give you a correct perception of our existence. You look back at Earth from the moon and you can put your thumb up to the window and hide the Earth behind your thumb. Everything you’ve ever known is behind your thumb, and that blue-and-white ball is orbiting a rather normal star, tucked away on the outer edge of a galaxy. You realize how insignificant we really all are. Everything you’ve ever known — all those arguments and wars — is right behind your thumb.”


Did you watch the video? It’s amazing and is literally the dark side of the moon!

I will close by republishing a Wikipedia entry for Apollo 13.

Apollo 13 was the seventh crewed mission in the Apollo space program and the third meant to land on the Moon. The craft was launched from Kennedy Space Center on April 11, 1970, but the lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank in the service module (SM) failed two days into the mission. The crew instead looped around the Moon, and returned safely to Earth on April 17. The mission was commanded by Jim Lovell with Jack Swigert as command module (CM) pilot and Fred Haise as lunar module (LM) pilot. Swigert was a late replacement for Ken Mattingly, who was grounded after exposure to rubella.

Accidental ignition of damaged wire insulation inside the oxygen tank as it was being routinely stirred caused an explosion that vented the tank’s contents. Without oxygen, needed both for breathing and for generating electric power, the SM’s propulsion and life support systems could not operate. The CM’s systems had to be shut down to conserve its remaining resources for reentry, forcing the crew to transfer to the LM as a lifeboat. With the lunar landing canceled, mission controllers worked to bring the crew home alive.

Although the LM was designed to support two men on the lunar surface for two days, Mission Control in Houston improvised new procedures so it could support three men for four days. The crew experienced great hardship caused by limited power, a chilly and wet cabin and a shortage of potable water. There was a critical need to adapt the CM’s cartridges for the carbon dioxide removal system to work in the LM; the crew and mission controllers were successful in improvising a solution. The astronauts’ peril briefly renewed interest in the Apollo program; tens of millions watched the splashdown in the South Pacific Ocean by television.

An investigative review board found fault with preflight testing of the oxygen tank and the fact that Teflon was placed inside it. The board recommended changes, including minimizing the use of potentially combustible items inside the tank; this was done for Apollo 14. The story of Apollo 13 has been dramatized several times, most notably in the 1995 film Apollo 13.

The Time Machine


When you read this post, assuming you will be reading it on Sunday 8th April, you may be wondering why there is no Picture Parade today.

Indeed, there are not going to be Picture Parades until the first Sunday in May.

Actually, to be completely honest, there are going to be no posts at all from tomorrow all the way through to May; the next post being a guest post on Tuesday, 1st May. Nor will I be popping into this place to acknowledge comments and replies! Sorry!


Simply because Jean and I are taking a little vacation. Will explain more when we return.

Jana Stewart will be living here at home caring for all the dogs, cats, horses, ponies, chickens and parakeets! Oh, nearly forgot! And putting out feed for the wild deer!

So this post is to share with you the aptly named The Time Machine album by Alan Parsons

Also, I wanted to specifically share with you three of the tracks from that album!



Can’t imagine you haven’t come across Alan Parsons before but in that unlikely event his website is here.

Plus, I will close with a copy of the opening WikiPedia information on Alan Parsons.

Alan Parsons (born 20 December 1948)[1] is an English audio engineer, songwriter, musician, and record producer. He was involved with the production of several significant albums, including the BeatlesAbbey Road and Let It Be, and the art rock band Ambrosia‘s debut album Ambrosia as well as Pink Floyd‘s The Dark Side of the Moon for which Pink Floyd credit him as an important contributor. Parsons’ own group, the Alan Parsons Project, as well as his subsequent solo recordings, have also been successful commercially.

Yes, I know I’m showing my age!!

Being philosophical about philosophy!

Two more examples of deep thinking.

Note: We have a flooring contractor in the house all week and it’s making it a little tricky to spend the couple of hours a day that is my usual pattern for writing posts for LfD.  So apologies if this week’s posts are more dependent on the thoughts of others than is usual.

Alain de Botton
Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton is a familiar face on British television.  WikiPedia’s entry describes him, thus:

Alain de Botton, FRSL (born 20 December 1969) is a Swiss/British writer, philosopher, television presenter and entrepreneur, resident in the United Kingdom. His books and television programmes discuss various contemporary subjects and themes, emphasizing philosophy’s relevance to everyday life.

He has been the presenter of a BBC Six-part series called Philosophy: A Guide To Happiness.  And who wouldn’t be turned on by that!

Luckily, all six episodes are available on YouTube, at this overall link.

But I wanted to share the first episode because despite the title being Socrates on Self-Confidence it really speaks to our lives in this year of 2013.

Moving on.

A recent item on Big Think, again about philosophy, jumped off the page at me. It specifically looked at making our life, as in mental health, easier in these demanding times.  It was by Daniel Dennett and was called The Philosopher’s Self-Help Book. 

Daniel Dennett
Daniel Dennett


The Philosopher’s Self-Help Book (with Daniel Dennett)


JULY 13, 2013,

While Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley busy themselves making every aspect of our lives more efficient (except, perhaps, for the process of discovering these new technologies, learning them, and integrating them into our lives), Daniel Dennett sits up at Tufts University in  Massachusetts, philosophizing. His latest book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking is an attempt to make transparent some of the tricks of the philosopher’s trade. In an accelerating age, it’s a self-help book designed to slow the reader down and improve our ability to think things through.

The kinds of things Mr. Dennett likes to think about include the nature of consciousness, evolution, and religious belief. But the mind-training his new book offers is applicable to any problem you want to consider thoroughly. In an age of quick fixes and corner-cutting, we’re in constant danger of bad decision making – of overreliance on what cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls “system 1”, and what most of us call intuition. This rapid decision making channel of the brain is helpful when we are in mortal danger, or pressed for a quick decision within our areas of expertise. But for most decisions, the slower, more deliberate channel (system 2) is much more reliable. What Dennett offers, then, in Intuition Pumps, is a workout for system 2 – a series of thought experiments you can apply to puzzles real and imagined to bulk up the slower, wiser parts of your consciousness.

Some of the tools Dennett offers in the book are more familiar than others. Reductio ad absurdum arguments, for example, in which we test the validity of a claim by taking it to its most outrageous illogical extreme (a: “all living things have a right to liberty.” b: “so let me get this straight – a blade of grass has a right to liberty? What does that even mean?”). But the true delights of the book are the far-out exercises Dennett and his colleagues have dreamed up in the course of their work, such as “Swampman Meets A Cow-Shark”, from Donald Davidson, which begins:

Suppose lightning strikes a dead tree in a swamp; I am standing nearby. My body is reduced to its elements, while entirely by coincidence (and out of different molecules) the tree is turned into my physical replica. My replica, The Swampman, moves exactly as I did; according to its nature it departs the swamp, encounters and seems to recognize my friends, and appears to return their greetings in English.

Walking us through Davidson’s considerations about whether and to what extent the Swampman is anything like Davidson, and related ones about a cow that gives birth to something that looks exactly like a shark (yet has cow DNA in all of its cells), Dennett teaches us a surprising lesson about the utility of wild philosophical speculation.

Cloaked in the breezy, familiar trappings of a self-help book, Intuition Pumps is in actuality a dark mirror of that genre – a field of rabbit holes designed to leave the reader with more questions than answers, and wiser for the long and indirect journey.

Watch for Daniel Dennett’s Tools For Better Thinking – a Big Think Mentor workshop coming soon. 


I’m tempted to put the book on my own reading list.  If you want to drop into the appropriate Amazon page there is an audio link plus the option to read an extract.  Amazon describe the book, as follows:

One of the world’s leading philosophers offers aspiring thinkers his personal trove of mind-stretching thought experiments.

Over a storied career, Daniel C. Dennett has engaged questions about science and the workings of the mind. His answers have combined rigorous argument with strong empirical grounding. And a lot of fun.

Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking offers seventy-seven of Dennett’s most successful “imagination-extenders and focus-holders” meant to guide you through some of life’s most treacherous subject matter: evolution, meaning, mind, and free will. With patience and wit, Dennett deftly deploys his thinking tools to gain traction on these thorny issues while offering readers insight into how and why each tool was built.

Alongside well-known favorites like Occam’s Razor and reductio ad absurdum lie thrilling descriptions of Dennett’s own creations: Trapped in the Robot Control RoomBeware of the Prime Mammal, and The Wandering Two-Bitser. Ranging across disciplines as diverse as psychology, biology, computer science, and physics, Dennett’s tools embrace in equal measure light-heartedness and accessibility as they welcome uninitiated and seasoned readers alike. As always, his goal remains to teach you how to “think reliably and even gracefully about really hard questions.”

A sweeping work of intellectual seriousness that’s also studded with impish delights, Intuition Pumps offers intrepid thinkers—in all walks of life—delicious opportunities to explore their pet ideas with new powers.

Speaking of ‘pet ideas with new powers’ prompts one to reflect on the amount of time that dogs spend thinking!  As the following picture confirms!

Pharaoh contemplating the meaning of life!
Pharaoh contemplating the meaning of life!

The sounds of life.

Bernie Krause: The voice of the natural world

Not going to do anything other than ask you to watch, or more pertinently listen, to this 14-minute video.

Published on Jul 15, 2013

Bernie Krause has been recording wild soundscapes — the wind in the trees, the chirping of birds, the subtle sounds of insect larvae — for 45 years. In that time, he has seen many environments radically altered by humans, sometimes even by practices thought to be environmentally safe. A surprising look at what we can learn through nature’s symphonies, from the grunting of a sea anemone to the sad calls of a beaver in mourning.

The Wikipedia entry explains that:

Bernie Krause was born in 1938. Somewhat of a musical prodigy, by age 3-1/2 he studied violin and by age 4 classical composition. He performed on a variety of stringed instruments (cello, bass, viola, harp) but fell in love with the guitar. He was disappointed when in 1955 not a single music school to which he applied would accept him with guitar as his primary instrument. Krause went on to work as a studio guitarist on jazz sessions and, occasionally, on early Motown sessions. He also worked as a recording engineer and producer in Ann Arbor while an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. He joined The Weavers in 1963, occupying the position created by co-founder Pete Seeger and stayed with them until they disbanded a year later.

More details here.

Do go across to Bernie Krause’s website Wild Sanctuary if only to listen to the sounds of birds on the ‘home page’!


Sea Fever

But not of the John Masefield variety.

A friend of Jean and me and recent follower of Learning from Dogs, Ira W., sent me an email that included a link to Theo Jansen’s Strandbeest website.  To say that I was astonished at what I read would be a giant understatement.  Wikipedia offers this opening description:

Theo Jansen (born 1948) is a Dutch artist. In 1990, he began what he is known for today: building large mechanisms out of PVC that are able to move on their own, known as Strandbeest. His animated works are a fusion of art and engineering; in a car company (BMW) television commercial Jansen says: “The walls between art and engineering exist only in our minds.” He strives to equip his creations with their own artificial intelligence so they can avoid obstacles by changing course when one is detected, such as the sea itself.

How is that realised? Well take a look at this:


The Strandbeest website has this information about what the ‘beast’ is about.

Self-propelling beach animals like Animaris Percipiere have a stomach . This consists of recycled plastic bottles containing air that can be pumped up to a high pressure by the wind. This is done using a variety of bicycle pump, needless to say of plastic tubing. Several of these little pumps are driven by wings up at the front of the animal that flap in the breeze. It takes a few hours, but then the bottles are full. They contain a supply of potential wind. Take off the cap and the wind will emerge from the bottle at high speed. The trick is to get that untamed wind under control and use it to move the animal. For this, muscles are required. Beach animals have pushing muscles which get longer when told to do so. These consist of a tube containing another that is able to move in and out. There is a rubber ring on the end of the inner tube so that this acts as a piston. When the air runs from the bottles through a small pipe in the tube it pushes the piston outwards and the muscle lengthens. The beach animal’s muscle can best be likened to a bone that gets longer. Muscles can open taps to activate other muscles that open other taps, and so on. This creates control centres that can be compared to brains.

Plus there is no shortage of videos to find on the web.  I chose this one for you. (But, please do go to  Jansen’s home page as well and watch the video.)

So the creativity of man knows no bounds!  Which neatly brings me to the creativity of the poet John Masefield.  Here is that famous poem.

Sea Fever


I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

Carl Sagan

How very precious, vulnerable and fragile is this precious place we call home.

Today’s consciousness perambulation is the fault of Mr. P., as I like to call him. I refer to Pendantry as he is on his blog, Wibble.

You see on Sunday he added a comment to my post Just a small, white dot! that included the beautiful and awe-inspiring film made by the late Carl Sagan called Pale Blue Dot.


Like millions of others, I came to admire Carl Sagan through watching the fabulous, the truly fabulous, television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. (NB. All the episodes are on YouTube, Episode One is at the end of this Post, Ed.)  Here’s how WikiPedia opens their reference to Carl.

Carl Edward Sagan (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996) was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences. He spent most of his career as a professor of astronomy at Cornell University where he directed the Laboratory for Planetary Studies.

He published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books. He advocated scientifically skeptical inquiry and the scientific method, pioneered exobiology and promoted the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

Sagan is known for his popular science books and for the award-winning 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which he narrated and co-wrote.  The book Cosmos was published to accompany the series. Sagan wrote the novel Contact, the basis for a 1997 film of the same name.

He died far too young and was a tragic loss to humanity.  The Carl Sagan web portal is here.

That 3:30 minute video Pale Blue Dot has, likewise, been seen by millions.  If you or someone you know hasn’t seen it, then you must pause now …

It’s practically impossible to watch that video and not embrace the central message from Mr. Sagan.  Here’s the transcript:

Our home from 6 billion kilometres. A very tiny dot against the vastness of space.

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different.

Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.

On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.

The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.

Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Tomorrow, I will stay with the theme of our beautiful planet. Hope you can join me.

Now spoil yourself and watch Episode One of Cosmos.